Florida – sun, fun and animal cognition

Not a bad way to wake up each morning.
Not a bad way to wake up each morning.

Another CO3 (Comparative Cognition Conference) has come and gone. Every year, a small (250-ish) group of scientists who study animals (from bees to humans) gathers on the beach in Melbourne, Florida to share snippets of research and make friends with others who share the same fascination with how animals think, solve problems, and perceive the world.


Besides its small size, one thing that makes CO3 unique is that there is only one track of talks, and most people get 5-15 minutes to summarize their research and findings (and answer questions from Ralph Miller). The conference is also an opportunity to mix and mingle with some of your favorite scientists, the ones whose studies you read about in your animal behavior class, or the ones who are doing some fascinating and cutting edge work right now!

I storified some of my brief reports on the conference – including the Dog Cog symposium – hopefully they will make you seek out more information on the topics that look interesting – because as hard as it is to summarize your research in a 5-minute talk, it’s even harder to summarize someone’s 5-minute talk in a 140-character tweet!

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Ed Wasserman’s master lecture! What a great speaker! Dr. Wasserman is perhaps most well known for his research demonstrating evidence for concept formation in animals (namely pigeons). I loved that he ended his lecture by really emphasizing the similarities between humans and other animals, and that we are not above nature, we are part of nature.

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Earlier this year, his research showing that pigeons form categories in a way similar to how toddlers learn new words received a lot of attention in the media. By really focusing on the building blocks of cognition, Wasserman’s work both demonstrates how cool and smart pigeons are, but how these processes REALLY are building blocks!

With so many amazing talks, it’s hard to pick highlights. I think the program will eventually be posted here. But I was particularly excited to see a presentation on problem-solving in skunks, animals who are excellent foragers, but have low social interactions. How were they at solving problems? Good at the easy ones, not as good on a difficult task – many questions still remain about #skunkproblems, but their performance on the task (which was highly visual) may have been influenced by bad vision and low inhibitory control (i.e. they’re impulsive little creatures!). Other species added to the mix: chickens (chicken cognition? YES), the nautilus, and tortoises! Along with the usual suspects: pigeons, rats, dolphins, and chickadees.

There was IMG_4443ONE squirrel talk on gray squirrels’ performance on a serial-reversal-learning task – basically the flexibility to learn one thing and then learn the opposite (“confuse-a-squirrel”?), coming from Pizza Chow at Stephen Lea’s lab. Plus my undergrad mentee and I both had squirrel posters in the poster sessions.



But NO talks on cat cognition! Obviously it’s time for me to finish my PhD and start a catcog lab!!!




And it wouldn’t be CO3 without some sun, fun, and animals – from the man-o-wars on the beach to the tortoises we met at Turkey Creek Sanctuary.

Man-o-wars on the beach
Hello Turkey Creek tortoise


No idea what kind of bird this is.

Until next year...


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