I was fortunate to be interviewed for the Los Angeles Times for this lovely piece about the squirrel of the UC Berkeley campus and the work I've been doing with them! Read here and enjoy!
Your cat's sniffer is better than you thought
A recent paper by Kristen Shreve and Monique Udell reviews the importance of olfaction to cats, and how understanding this importance may help us better support feline welfare. In this interview, Shreve incorporates her recent work on training cats to suggest...perhaps a future role for cats as detection animals...search and rescue cats anyone?
Can we put the toxoplasmosis question to bed now?
I've written before about my irritation with the assumption that because cats are carriers of toxoplasmosis (a parasite linked with several health problems, including mental health issues), that living with a cat somehow means you are "crazy."
Well, a new longitudinal study followed children from birth until their teenage years and found no relationship between growing up with a cat and early signs of mental illness as a teenager. So if you have kids, or are thinking of having kids, don't let that stop you from adopting several adorable cats. You can read Karin Brulliard's WaPo report on the study here.
Could bumblebees use a soda machine? May-bee
Researchers in the UK wanted to see if bees could learn to use a "vending machine" - essentially, to learn that an item without any intrinsic rewards (such as a token) could be exchanged form something very rewarding (like nectar). To modify this task, they used a ball that could be rolled (because bees don't have pockets for coins). Bees learned the task, and learned even faster if they could watch a puppet bee perform the task first, and learned even faster than that if they could watch a real bee first. Read more here!
Pizza rat vs. Milkshake squirrel
I love urban wildlife and the way they have adapted to exploit the resources available to them in the environment, like human food waste. This week, pizza rat and milkshake squirrel highlighted rodents' ability to carry large food items, and digest a variety of foods.
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.
I wrote about a new study exploring turtle navigation and the importance of early learning for the Berkeley Science Review! Check it out!
Fish see illusions, just like us
Which blue circle looks bigger? They're the same size. This illusion is called the "Ebbinghaus illusion" and it turns out, even fish are susceptible to this visual trickery. Some fish were trained to prefer large circles, and some to prefer small circles. Their test choice depended on the appearance of the circle in relation to a group of differently-colored, differently-sized circles.
A closer look at the map behind cognitive maps and free speech for faculty
Edward Tolman is the man they named the Psych building for at UC Berkeley - but do you know about his contributions to the field of animal cognition? Or how he stood up for free speech in the age of McCarthyism? I wrote about him at the Berkeley Science Review!
You can learn to love brown rice
Well it looks like the methods may be a little sketchy, but a small study suggests that people can learn to see healthy food as rewarding (and show less reward response in the brain to things like donuts and cookies). Can't we have it both ways? I love brown rice AND donuts.
Do dogs feel jealousy?
Most scientists agree that non-human animals feel the "basic" emotions - fear, anger, happiness, surprise - or at least the animal-equivalents. Behavioral and neurological studies support that animals have, to some degree, similar emotional experiences as we do.
When it comes to more complex emotions, such as guilt, embarrassment, and sympathy, we have much less empirical support. These emotional states may require some form of theory of mind or a level of self-consciousness that we aren't sure that animals have.
The new dog-jealousy study has gotten a lot of hype and press, and now everyone thinks dogs can feel jealous. Other studies have shown that anthropomorphism may play a huge role in how we interpret the "guilty look" in dogs. I think it's a bit strange that the human researchers find the evidence more compelling than the animal cognition experts and it would have been nice if they had included a dog-cog expert on their team.
Dog owners petted a stuffed dog (or read a book or paid attention to a jack o'lantern), and the behavior of their pet dog was measured. Dogs were more likely to bark or push on the owner or investigate the object when it was a stuffed dog. I think what we can all agree on - dogs attempt to get their owner's attention when it is directed elsewhere - attention is of course a resource that is important to many pets. You can read the study here - yay open access!
Why isn't composting the norm?
I am lucky to live somewhere where we can put all of our food scraps in a compost bin and not into landfill. I'm very excited to see that NYC is following suit! I think some psychological science can be added to get everyone on board!
Camouflage is an amazing thing. This satanic leaf gecko has perfectly evolved to match its habitat - even when that habitat varies.
But what about when that habitat has completely changed? Scientists examine the outlook of the snowshoe hare, an animal that typically changes color as the weather changes to match the presence of snow in the winter...but what happens when there's no snow?
The Clever Hans scandal may have made scientists hesitant to study the mathematical abilities of horses. I covered a new study examining quantity discrimination in ponies over at the Berkeley Science Review...