Cetacean Cognitive Specializations

Kelly Jaakkola

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

Cetacean Cognitive Specializations


This chapter provides an in-depth discussion of the cognition of the most well known cetacean—the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). First, observational and experimental evidence for various cognitive capacities is examined across four major areas: concepts and memory, physical cognition, social cognition, and symbolic cognition. The results suggest that dolphins possess a level of complex cognition largely on par with great apes, but surpass them in several areas of social cognition, and lag behind in one area of physical cognition. Next, evolutionary pressures hypothesized to account for the expansion of the dolphin neocortex and associated cognitive abilities are examined. It is suggested that, as with apes, the capacity for secondary representation may provide a key mechanism underlying dolphins' complex cognitive abilities.

Keywords: Bottlenose dolphin; cognitive evolution; secondary representation; tool use; cooperation; theory of mind; imitation; signature whistles; symbolic cognition

Article.  17264 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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