The Currency of Cognition: Assessing Tools, Techniques, and Media for Complex Behavioral Analysis

Abstract: Since 1985, long-term underwater observations of 220 Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) and 200 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), have provided a unique opportunity to observe the flow of information within and between these societies in the clear waters of the Bahamas. Spotted dolphins are of known gender, relationships (mother/calf, siblings), and association patterns, thus providing a rich social relationship framework. In addition, human researchers enter into interactions with dolphins, providing flow of information between humans and these two delphinid species. Underwater video with hydrophone input has been used to capture contextually sensitive information, including associated vocalizations and behaviors (e.g., foraging, aggression, courtship, and discipline) with known individuals. These specific actions (e.g., gestures, vocalizations, gaze, body/head orientation, etc.) represent the potential media of information, or currency of cognition, available to dolphins. Such media are real-world, observable, and measurable signals through detailed behavioral analysis (i.e., Micro-ethology). By measuring this flow of information in context, in real-time interactions, and through changes over time, we may be able to assess the potential for distributed cognition in this social species. Issues such as gender, age, social relations, and developmental aspects will be brought into context for applying distributed cognition analysis techniques to dolphins in ecologically valid ways.


Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.32.4.2006.544

Page Numbers: 544 – 553

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