University of Cambridge > > Departmental Seminar Programme, Department of Veterinary Medicine > Memories of Tomorrow: Do Animals Remember the Past and Plan for the Future?

Memories of Tomorrow: Do Animals Remember the Past and Plan for the Future?

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According to the mental time travel hypothesis only humans can mentally dissociate themselves from the present, travelling backwards in time to recollect specific past events about what happened where and when (episodic memory) and travelling forwards in time to anticipate future needs (future planning). Studies on the behaviour of food-caching western scrub-jays question this assumption. In terms of retrospective cognition, these birds remember the ‘what, where and when’ of specific past caching episodes, they keep track of how long ago they cached different types of perishable foods that decay at different rates, and also remember whether another individual was present at the time of caching, and if so, which bird was watching when. Recent work demonstrates that the jays also make provision for a future need, caching more food in places in which they will not be given breakfast the next morning than in places where they will be receive breakfast the next morning even though there is plenty of food available to them when they cache the food. Taken together these results challenge the mental time travel hypothesis by showing that some elements of both retrospective and prospective mental time travel appear not to be uniquely human.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminar Programme, Department of Veterinary Medicine series.

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