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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Synergy of Laboratory and Field Studies of Dolphin Behavior and Cognition

  • Author(s): Pack, Adam A.
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Dolphin behavior and cognition have been studied in both the laboratory and the wild. Laboratory studies provide high levels of control over experimental variables and the opportunity to investigate the cognitive mechanisms of behavior. However, laboratory studies are typically limited to a few subjects. Field studies have the benefit of examining behavior and social interactions among large numbers of individuals. They can reveal how cognitive abilities are expressed naturally, and can provide external validity for observations in the laboratory. However, there is typically less controlover experimental variables in field studies than in the laboratory. Thus, a synergistic relationship has emerged between laboratory and field studies of dolphin behavior and cognition with each contributing information and ideas to the other that can lead to new questions and insights. This relationship is demonstrated using four issues: a) the types of percepts and mental representations dolphins can form through echolocation; b) the complexity of relationships that dolphins can understand; c) the dolphin's competency in symbolic referential communication; and d) the dolphin's ability to manage joint attention through pointing and gazing.

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