Cold-Blooded Cognition: Reptilian Cognitive Abilities

Anna Wilkinson and Ludwig Huber

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738182
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Cold-Blooded Cognition: Reptilian Cognitive Abilities


Reptiles, birds, and mammals evolved from a common amniotic ancestor and it is likely that they share both behavioral and morphological traits. Equally, since this ancestor lived around 280 million years ago there is ample time for very different capacities and mechanisms to have evolved. To more fully understand the evolution of cognition, it is essential to examine the cognitive abilities of reptiles in a way that is comparable to the vast amount of work that has been conducted with mammals and birds. Though the processes underlying reptilian cognitive behavior remain far from understood, recent research has made some noteworthy progress. This chapter will review the literature on the acquisition of novel behavior, spatial, visual, and social cognition in a range of reptile species. We will interpret current evidence in the light of what is known about cognitive processes, and the mechanisms underlying these, in mammals and birds. Finally, we will discuss the importance of work with reptiles to gain a fuller understanding of cognitive evolution.

Keywords: Reptile; amniote; spatial cognition; visual cognition; social cognition; turtle; tortoise; lizard

Article.  10606 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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