June 24, 2024

Dolphin Social Cognition and Joint Attention: Our Current Understanding


Adam A. Pack, Louis M. Herman


Abstract: Recent intense interest in social cognition in dolphins reflects findings that wild dolphins live in complex societies that rely on individual recognition, a protracted period of development, coalition formation, and cooperative, as well as competitive, social behaviors. Laboratory studies have revealed a host of cognitive skills that can support such complex behaviors—for example, broad imitative abilities, abilities to understand another’s indicative cues, and spontaneous use of pointing to communicate with human companions.Joint attention is recognized as a key element of social cognition that extends from simply following another’s gaze to using pointing or gazing cues of another to select objects or locations. Studies of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have revealed that they understand (1) human-given direct and cross-body points; (2) human-given dynamic and static pointing and gazing cues within object-choice tasks; (3) the geometry of pointing cues; (4) the referential character of pointing and gazing cues; (5) sequences of direct and/or cross-body points that were instructions to transport one object to another; (6) how to produce pointing cues and the importance of audience attention; and (7) possibly the belief state of another that is engaged in a joint attention task. The evidence suggests that joint attention skills in dolphins are robust and to some degree symmetric across comprehension and production. Comparative analyses indicate that in some areas of joint attention, abilities of dolphins exceed the demonstrated skills of apes. Possibly, a dolphin’s capacity for joint attention may be related to the adaptive benefits of being able to attend to the focus of another dolphin’s echolocation beam in conjunction with a sophisticated social structure dependent on attention to others.


Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.32.4.2006.443

Page Numbers: 443 – 460

Info SKU: Vol__32__Iss__4__Pack_Herman Category: