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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dolphin Cognition: Representations and Processes in Memory and Perception

  • Author(s): Mercado III, Eduardo;
  • DeLong, Caroline M.
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Many people agree that dolphins are sentient beings, but few would claim to know what being a dolphin is like. From a psychological perspective, a dolphin’s experiences are a function of its mental capacities, especially those processes that relate to memories, percepts, thoughts, and emotions. This paper reviews what is currently known about dolphins’ cognitive abilities, focusing on how they perceive and remember events. Experiments with captive dolphins show that they can flexibly access memories of past events and construct sophisticated representations of the world and themselves.How dolphins act and what they remember about their actions impacts what they perceive, which in turn guides their thoughts and decisions. Many of the actions and events that shape a dolphin’s experience are internally generated and monitored. Knowing how dolphins perceive temporal patterns, objects, emotions, actions, agents, scenes, messages, and motivations can help clarify what dolphins’ thoughts, memories, and experiences are like. Only by giving dolphins a way to show what they know, or can learn, can we hope to understand what goes on inside their heads.

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