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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Carnivore concepts: Categorization in carnivores “bears” further study


Although categorization abilities may serve as the foundation for most other complex cognitive processes, this topic has been grossly understudied in the order Carnivora. However, there are a growing number of studies examining the abilities of bears, felines, and canines to discriminate among stimuli that could represent conceptual categories. These studies are few in number compared to the extensive work conducted on non-human primates, but, thus far, results suggest that carnivores show comparable abilities to, for example; form natural categories, discriminate quantities, recognize cues of human emotion, and to discriminate kin. There is little existing work exploring concepts of sameness and relational reasoning in carnivores, and work on social concepts, such as representations of mental states, exist only in canines. Future studies are necessary to better understand the mechanisms underlying carnivores’ categorization abilities and conceptual representations. Furthermore, future work should focus on differences in conceptual ability as a function of social lifestyle and dietary preferences within carnivores. Such studies will be helpful in understanding the evolutionary pressures responsible for conceptual processes in a variety of species, including humans.

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