Animal Cognition & Consciousness


PHIL 414

Animal Cognition & Consciousness
with laboratory component

Required Readings:
Rader & Radner, Animal Consciousness
Dennett, Kinds of Minds
Allen & Bekoff, Species of Mind
Bekoff, The Cognitive Animal
Altmann 1974 Observational study of behavior

Many articles and excerpts posted on the Blackboard site. Be sure you can access Blackboard!

Course Description:

This course examines the notions of intelligence, cognition, reasoning, consciousness, and mental content as they appear in the philosophical views and empirical studies of animals in individual and social contexts. Cognitive ethology strives to scientifically measure the extent and limits of the mental lives of animals. We will review scientific findings that suggest striking likenesses and intriguing differences in the (apparent) thought processes of humans and animals, and ask whether the research techniques that brought us these results are fully adequate to measuring such unobservable entities as conscious experience and thought. Techniques of measurement range from naturalistic observation, to the processing of vocalizations, to memory and problem solving tasks, to the imaging of brain processes through fMRI scans, etc. Students will face the challenges and rewards of practicing some of these techniques in the service component of the course. (Students will participate in veterinary clinic or shelter work to provide needed animal care while studying animal behavior using cognitive ethological methods.) We will compare methods for measuring consciousness and intelligence in animals to those used for human beings, and ask questions about types of consciousness, and the process of dividing unobservable entities into types. These issues provide a forum for a review of the relevance and impact of philosophy on science, and vice versa. How much does theory create data, and how much does data merely inform theory? Do scientists assume a specific philosophical position in order to do science? Finally, we will survey axiological questions and explore how theories developed by communities of humans do, and should, impact the care, use and treatment of animals in our society.

The service component: Laboratory Credit 25 hours of service is required, but 30 hours of observation is the standard minimum data set for adequate statistical analysis.

What is service learning? Service learning is a pedagogy that integrates experiential learning and community service in an academic context. Through activities and experiences mutually negotiated between academic and community partners, service-learning addresses identified community needs while enhancing the academic curriculum.

Why does this course incorporate service learning?

  1. The course is aimed toward creating and developing a powerful learning environment. i.e., to integrate academic knowledge, practical skill and community impact.First, students will come to understand scholarship in philosophy, psychology and ethology in the classroom. Successful students will show an understanding of the philosophical questions surrounding consciousness, cognition, thought, scientific methods in cognitive ethology and debates regarding the ethical treatment of animals. What are consciousness, intelligence and thought? How can science adequately measure such things? When do we know when a policy should take such notions into consideration? How should we weigh human benefit against animal suffering? How can we ever decide such issues as these? This learning will be measured through mini-papers, papers and in-class structured reflection exercises.Second, students will build practical skills, ranging from facility in communication and public relations, to appropriate application of theory to real situations with animals, to cooperation and dependability. These qualities will be measured in part by the absence of negative/presence of positive (service host supplied) quality reports on student interaction with service host personnel and animal wards, and (student created) papers and structured reflection exercises focusing on the link between scholarship on animal consciousness and practice.Third, community impact will be measured by positive impact on animal care at partner sites in the Cleveland area. Specifically, the following data {pending time constraints, student project topics and situational factors} will be collected for and presented in the research project papers and posters:
    • Baseline/Update data describing shelter intake, adoption & euthanasia rates
    • Reduction of fertility among feral animals
    • Reports on animal behavior and measures of cognition
    • Demand for animals for use in benign research study
    • Implementation of public beliefs in policy & practice
  2. There are at least 3 components of the course content that are deeply enhanced by, if not impossible to accomplish without, student experiences gained through service:Research: Because this course asks you to become proficient in common methods for measuring animal consciousness and cognition (and because your final project will present your own research in cognitive ethology), an experiential component is necessary for the development of methodological technique and skill. Your participation at the service site provides you with the opportunity to conduct observational and behavioral research while gaining experience and exposure to animal services in the area. The service component is your laboratory section.Philosophical Analysis: Further, as we ask philosophical questions about this research, student exposure to how philosophical positions held by a community are manifested in policy and practice is essential. Philosophy is often criticized for limiting itself to armchair critiques, and bad philosophy is done without a full understanding of the practical problems that arise with efforts to implement theory. This course fosters the proper activity of philosophy, in which critical details are considered as we create, adopt, and reject the studied theoretical constructs. Impact Comprehension: Your work at the service site will assist the site in the achievement of their objectives, providing a synergy between community and university. Is this impact driven by philosophy? Both philosophers and scientists have argued that philosophy is obsolete and/or useless. This work will provide a context for developing a well-informed position on the actual and potential impact of philosophy on research and on community. This component of the course is impossible without the inclusion of service experience.

Course Objectives & Educational Outcomes:

Successful students will be able to: Apply several methods in cognitive ethology to collect data for the assessment of psychological states, cognitive abilities, and mental dispositions of animals encountered in a shelter or care facility setting.

As measured by: The final research project will be presented as a paper & poster. The project supports a well-defined thesis on some aspect of animal cognition that is supported by data the student has collected over the course of the semester using these methods. Methods are clearly and accurately described in the report, and derived data meets professional standards.

Successful students will be able to: Modify learned methods in cognitive ethology to manage, modify, correct, reciprocate, and/or better understand experienced interactions with animals.

As measured by: A variety of measures, including: reviews by service site volunteer coordinators or appropriate staff members; research paper topics; structured reflection exercises; mini-papers/reflection papers.

Successful students will be able to: Recognize, describe, and engage in careful analysis of philosophical questions/concepts pertaining to such methods and measures of consciousness.

As measured by: Structured reflection exercises ask students to apply concepts learned in class to situations and observations at the service site. Structured reflections should take paragraph form, and written reflections will be the basis for class discussions.

Successful students will be able to: Critically discuss and analyze the similarities and differences in approaches to measuring animal and human cognition; critically discuss & analyze the similarities and differences in theory construction in the sciences of human cognition and animal cognition.

As measured by: Structured reflection exercises, mini-papers, and the final paper ask students to note such similarities & differences, and use philosophical methods of critique, review and analysis in order to understand such similarities and differences, and the reasons behind them.

Successful students will be able to: Explain, using philosophical concepts, the role and impact of domestic animals commonly owned as pets in the greater Cleveland area; demonstrate knowledge of the function of
animal shelters and veterinary clinics and community need for their service.

As measured by: Structured reflection exercises and mini-papers will ask students to note area needs and services and explain the response of institutions to community need.

Successful students will be able to: Critically discuss the relevance of philosophy to policy and human action. Explain a variety of views on the interaction between philosophical position and scientific method. Defend a philosophical position against objections.

As measured by: Structured reflection exercises, mini-papers, and the final paper ask students to describe, consider, develop and defend views in these areas.

Who are our Community Partners? How do I sign up at a service site?

The Cleveland Animal Protective League is our primary service partner. They are prepared to take and train all the students in this class, and they are aware that you need to collect data for your projects as you volunteer. Their website is and I strongly encourage you to visit this website during the first week of class. I have arranged university based transportation to and from this site, and some students will need to drive the university van to and from the site. People who become authorized to drive the van to this (or any) site, and drive people to and from the site, will receive extra credit. The Cleveland APL offers opportunities for people interested in working with cats, dogs, small animals such as rabbits and ferrets, and has options for people on the Pre-Veterinary track.

You may volunteer at another site if you wish to make contact, draw up an agreement with that site, and have it approved by me. Possible sites include:

Wolf Park Indiana* ( (wolves, foxes, coyotes);

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History* (raptors, raccoons, bobcats, and more);

Shaker Animal Clinic* (Contact Dr. Prueter at jprueter {at} shakeranimalclinic(.)com"">jprueter {at} shakeranimalclinic(.)com) Madison Ave., Lakewood, Ohio 44107).

The Medina Raptor Center (;

Cleveland Animal Rescue Center;

Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter;

Euclid Animal Shelter;

Feline Haven;

Back to the Wild (contact Mona Rutger at 419-684-9539 or e-mail mona {at} backtothewild(.)com"">mona {at} backtothewild(.)com);

Friends of the City of Cleveland Kennel;

Place a Pet Foundation;

Stay-a-While Cat Shelter;

Jane Miller* trains psychiatric service dogs; you can volunteer to work with her by emailing her a jmiller {at} oberlin(.)net"">jmiller {at} oberlin(.)net. See for more information.

Some people already volunteer at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo*. If you do, you may use your zoo work for this class. If you wish to assist a graduate student working at the zoo, you may do so for lab credit, but you must be hired by that graduate student and clear your work with me.

*highly recommended alternative placements.

Description of Service Roles at the Cleveland APL

The 25 hours of required service duties will vary slightly among our partner institutions, depending on their individual missions and needs, but all will include some interaction with animals. Possible duties and experiential opportunities are briefly outlined here.

  • Assistance at animal shelter, care, and control sites involving activities that meet the needs of
    specific service hosts. For example:

    • Interacting with animals at clinics and shelters (visiting and handling shelter animals for socialization, as well as routine care and feeding, kennel cleaning & laundry, walking, training, re-training, and play)
    • Assess & evaluate behaviors of animals in the shelter
    • Work with dogs, cats, and other small animals to keep them socialized and people-friendly to help ensure their adoptability.
    • Collecting of baseline data & relative changes in: number of animals in shelters, trends in animals entering shelters, health & adoptability status, shelter deaths & euthanasia rates, shelter use by prospective pet owners, adoption rates, and shelter capacity, current use of advertising & media in pet adoptions, success of adoption events, availability of low-cost spay/neuter programs, feral populations, city policies, etc.
  • Participation as a Foster Care Associate, possibly including:
    • Caring for an animal (feeding, grooming, medicating, socializing) in your home
    • Monitoring physical and psychological health of the animal
    • Ensuring the safety of the animal
  • See handouts for more information on opportunities and duties.

Reciprocal Relationship Standards:

The service component is designed to meet the needs of our service partners while enhancing your understanding of the class concepts. Your participation at the service site benefits your research, and your conscientious adherence to service partner site policies, effective cooperation, and completion of tasks assigned to you is expected (Note that following protocol in a laboratory is required in experimental science courses.)

You will be asked to interact with animals in order to experience, test, practice and evaluate a variety of behavioral and observational methods used in the cognitive ethological sciences to measure animal consciousness and cognition. The type of interaction you have with the animals will depend to some extent on your background and your special interests and abilities, as well as the needs of the various service sites. Every effort will be made to create a mutually beneficial match between student and service role. While you will have as much freedom as possible in selecting a site and role that matches your interests, the partner site must also place you as a worker that meets their needs.

Grading Scale:

A 90% -100% 360–400 points D 60%–69% 240–279 points

B 80% -89% 320–359 points F 0%–63% 0–239 points

C 70% -79% 280–319 points

Methods of Assessment: Mini-Papers, Reflections, Final Research Project (Paper & Poster)

Mini-Papers: 100 points (25%) will be determined by 10 mini-papers, each worth 10 points. These papers will often ask students to apply material already covered in lectures or discussions to a service based experience. Mini-papers have a short essay format, and occasionally morph into in-class writing. They are always due on Friday at 11:59. Graduate students are exempt from mini papers.

Mini-Papers: 100 points (25%) will be determined by 10 mini-papers, each worth 10 points. These papers will often ask students to apply material already covered in lectures or discussions to a service based experience. Mini-papers have a short essay format, and occasionally morph into in-class writing. They are always due on Friday at 11:59. Graduate students are exempt from mini papers.

Structured Reflection & Discussion Days: 120 points (30%) will be determined by discussion days/structured reflection days. You will sometimes need to prepare a little extra for these days, and it is a good idea to have reflected on your experiences at the shelter before you come to class. Topics & Questions will be announced in class. You will have 10 minutes at the beginning of class to write down your views on the topic and apply the philosophical theories learned in class to it. Discussion topics will range from: Explain the need for animal shelters/veterinary clinics in utilitarian terms—to—What is assumed about animal consciousness by behavioral measures used at your shelter/clinic. Discussions may be free form or may take a debate format. Sometimes there will be an activity that facilitates the discussion. While we will be reflecting on emotional experiences, the main point of the discussions is to provide a place for you to evaluate your philosophical views and how your experiences may have altered, finessed, or strengthened these views. Graduate students must participate in 10 of the 12 discussions.

Extra Credit, not to exceed 21 points, will be available throughout the semester

Final Research Project (Paper and Presentation): 180 points total (45%)

Undergraduate Research Paper: 120 points total (30%)

The research paper has 2 parts:

  • The scientific portion will follow standard research paper format, including an abstract, introduction, hypothesis, methods section, results, discussion, conclusion, and appendices for data and test diagrams. 8-12 pages (2,400–3,000 words) (60 points)
  • The philosophical portion will raise, explain and discuss 3 philosophical issues connected to the data, research methods, conclusions, possible implementation of such conclusions, or other closely related aspects of the research. Philosophical works must include a thesis position, reasons for the position, consideration of an objection to the thesis being presented, and replies/responses to the described objections. (2,400–3,000 words) (60 points)

(Graduate & Undergraduate) Presentation: 60 points total (15%)

The presentation will follow standard research format, containing sections on main findings, background, hypothesis, methods, results, discussion and conclusion. Due to high enrollment, presentations must be done in pairs. Find someone in the class who is working on a similar aspect of cognition to work with in the development of your shared PowerPoint. You will be asked to point out philosophical issues as part of the presentation; such issues should be raised at the end of the scientific presentation. Grades will usually be the same for both people on the team, though unusually excellent or poor performance may change that.

Graduate students will write TWO research papers, each comprising 30% of the grade. (120 points each, 240 points total)

  • The first research paper will be scientific, including an abstract, introduction, methods, subject descriptions, data, results and discussion sections (about 3000 words) and be modeled after sample papers from such journals as Ethology or Journal of Comparative Psychology.
  • The second research paper will be philosophical in nature, modeled after articles found in journals such as Journal of Philosophy or Philosophical Review, and will contain an in depth analysis of the methods, inferences, and conclusions drawn in the scientific paper, from a philosophical perspective.

Service Component Completion

The fourth credit hour for this course is comprised of your work at the service site. The service component is specifically designed to accommodate your process of data collection. A certain amount of data are essential for project completion, and adequately serving the site is necessary for data collection, thus, adequately serving the site is necessary to pass the course. Hours of completed work will be recorded at the site, and your travel time is not included in worked hours.

Evaluation of your performance relative to the standards of the service site will be done by service site personnel. If anyone is determined to have inappropriate behavior or unacceptable performance by the service site reviewer, that student will report to me for immediate placement at another site. I cannot guarantee my ability to place you at a third site, should such a circumstance arise, and multiple site replacements will probably result in inadequate data collection and subsequent failure in the course.

If you have a conflict with the site, please bring the conflict to my attention immediately, so that we can make an effort to resolve the problem and/or place you at another service site.

Schedule (subject to change)

Week 1: Introduction, Philosophy

T. Jan. 15 Why do you think anyone else is conscious?

Syllabus & course requirements

What is Service Learning? How do I get involved with a service site?

Sign up for APL Orientation on Saturday!

Call to sign up for Van Training! call 368-2907 to register, the map to the site can be found here stop by the CCEL, in the basement of Thwing, to get a van packet before you go. Bring a valid, current driver?s license to the training.

Read: Nagel?s ?What is it like to be a Bat?? on Blackboard

Read: Chalmers? Hard Problem on Blackboard

R. Jan. 17 Van Drivers Safety Awareness Training at 9 am or 1 pm (extra credit)

R. Jan. 17 What is philosophy? Ontology, Epistemology, Axiology

Read: Altmann Observational Study of Behavior on Blackboard

Read: Species of Mind chapters 3 & 4

Sat. Jan. 19th Animal Protective League Orientation 11:00 am ? 3:00 p.m.

If you have questions, contact APL volunteer coordinator Danielle
Begalla at dbegalla {at} clevelandapl(.)org"">dbegalla {at} clevelandapl(.)org or 216-377-1627

Week 2: Naturalistic Methods: Building an Ethogram & Collecting Data

T. Jan. 22 Jenni Mueller on ethograms in general & methods for collecting data (scan sampling, etc.)

R. Jan. 24 Jason Wark and Christine Cassella on building an ethogram & collecting data

Read: Radners book chapter 2, 7 and 8

Read: Rosenthal article posted on Blackboard

Week 3: Defining and Measuring Consciousness ?

T. Jan. 29 Practice taking data webcam live feed from the APL!

Kinds of Consciousness

R. Jan 31 Cartesian Criteria for consciousness, defining consciousness

Read: Articles on Animal Training Posted on Blackboard

Wolf Park Intensive Behavior Seminar Feb 1-3 ($325.00). I will give lab credit for this. See
vior_Intensive_Seminar.html%253Fitem_id%253Dotgx” target=”_blank”> vior_Intensive_Seminar.html%253Fitem_id%253Dotgx for details.

Week 4: Clicker Training, Operant Conditioning, Canids

T. Feb. 5 The Training Game demo

Assignment for Feb. 14th discussion: find 2 research articles on the animal of your choice and one of the following cognitive processes: memory, cognitive maps, insight, tool use, tool making, learning by imitation, learning by trial and error, concepts, problem solving, theory of mind, pretend play, deception, numerical concepts, language (or some other cognitive process approved by me).

R. Feb. 7 The Training Game

Dog learning and social structures

Calming Signals & Millan?s leader of the pack

Week 5: Planning your research, solving problems at your service site

T. Feb. 12 First Service Shift Due Today

Discussion/Structured Reflection Day

R. Feb. 14 Discussion/Structured Reflection Day: developing a possible
research study

Read: Cognitive Animal 7 ?Raven Consciousness? and 31 (Parrots)
and 39 (Communication in Birds)

Week 6: Bird Brains, Corvid Cognition, Problem Solving

T. Feb. 19: Ravens & Crows, Alex the Parrot

R. Feb. 21: Holly Mathews and George, from MNH

Read: Cognitive Animal 46 (Monkeys) and 34, 36, 37, 38

Week 7: Theory of Mind, communication and language

T. Feb. 26 Theory of Mind

Vervet Monkey Calls

Kanzi, Lou Herman?s Dolphin Lab

R. Feb. 28 Second service shift due today

Discussion/structured reflection day

Read Cognitive Animal 40 & 42

Week 8: Mirror Experiments & the Self

T. Mar.4 Mirror Experiments

R. Mar. 6 third service shift due today

Discussion/reflection day

Read: TBA (posted on Blackboard ? Gorilla Cognition readings,
readings on Kanzi)

Spring break: March 10-15

Week 9: Gorilla Gorilla, Gorilla, and Bonobos

T. Mar. 18 Koko movie

R. Mar. 20 Guest: Elena Hollein & Gorilla research

Read: Psychiatric Service Dogs readings (on Blackboard)

Read: Cognitive Animal 54

Week 10: Empathy, Learning

T. Mar. 25 fourth service shift due today

Discussion/structured reflection day

R. Mar. 27 Guests: Jane Miller and Simcha: Psychiatric Service Dogs

Read: Kinds of Minds

Week 11: Dennett

T. Apr. 1 Kinds of Minds

Octopus video excerpts

R. Apr. 3 Kinds of Minds

Sign up for presentations (they start next week!)

Week 12: Presentations

T. Apr. 8: 5 teams

R. Apr. 10: 5 teams

Peer Feedback/discussion (your presence at others? presentations, with rapt attention and apt questions, will give you discussion points)

Week 13: Presentations

T. Apr. 15: 5 teams

R. Apr. 17: 5 teams

Peer Feedback/discussion

Week 14: Presentations

T. Apr. 22: 5 teams

R. Apr. 24: 5 teams

Peer Feedback/discussion

Final Paper due date: May 1st at 11:59 pm

School: Case Western Reserve University
Professor: Dr. Sara Waller
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