Listen to part of a lecture in a psychology class.
We've been talking about animal cognition—the study of animal intelligence.
Now, much of the research in this area is motivated by the search for animal analogues, or parallels to human cognitive processes.
And one of the processes we've been investigating is metacognition.
What is metacognition?
Well, it's being aware of what one knows or feels, uh, um... having an awareness of one's state of mind.
And making decisions about behavior based on what one knows.
Researchers have long been interested in whether animals possess this capability, but couldn't test it, because animals aren't able to report their feelings.
But recently one group of researchers found a way to solve this problem.
They did studies with ...with monkeys and dolphins that provide evidence that these animals have the ability to feel uncertainty, to feel unsure about something and... and... well, to know that they are uncertain.
So how could these researchers figure out if an animal feels uncertainty?
Well, it began with a study one of them did on a dolphin, who had been trained to recognize a particular high-pitched tone.
The dolphin was taught to press one of two paddles depending on whether it heard the high tone or one that was lower.
Food was a reward for a correct response.
But if the wrong paddle was pressed, the dolphin had to wait several seconds before it could try again.
The task varied in difficulty according to the pitch of the second tone.
The closer it came in pitch to the first one, the hard it became for the dolphin to correctly identify it as low.
And the researcher noted that the dolphin is quite eager to press the paddle when it was sure of the answer, but exhibited hesitation during difficult trials.
Next the researcher introduced a third option, a third paddle that would initiate a new trial, giving the dolphin the choice of passing on difficult trials.
Once the dolphin figured out the result of pressing this new paddle, it did choose it frequently when the trial was difficult.
The researcher took that as an indication that the animal wanted to pass because it didn't know the answer and knew it didn't know.