oIn a broad sense, animal cognition is the ability of an animal’s nervous system to perceive, store, process, and use information gathered by sensory receptors. The study of animal cognition, called cognitive ethology, examines the connection between an animal’s nervous system and its behavior. One area of research investigates how an animal’s brain represents physical objects in the environment. Cognitive ethnologists have discovered that many animals, including insects, categorize objects in their environment as “same” or “different.” Primates, dolphins, and corvids (crow, ravens, and jays) are capable of novel problem-solving behavior. oIndividual animals may show great individual variation in the way they attempt to solve a problem. Many animals solve problems by observing the behavior of other individuals. oChimpanzees learn to solve problems by copying the behavior of other chimpanzees. Varying degrees of genetic and environmental factors contribute to the learning of complex behavior.Considerable research on the development of songs by birds has revealed varying degrees of genetic and environmental influence on the learning of complex behavior. In some species, learning plays only a small part in the development of song.
oFor instance, New World flycatchers that are reared away from adults of their own species will sing the song characteristic of their own species without every having heard it. Some songbirds have a sensitive period for developing their songs. oIndividual white-crowned sparrows reared in silence perform abnormal songs, but if recordings of the proper songs are played early in the life of the bird, normal songs develop. oAlthough the young bird does not sing during the sensitive period, it memorizes the song of its own species by listening to other white-crowned sparrows sing. oDuring the sensitive period, white-crowned sparrows fledging seem to be stimulated more by songs of their own species than songs of other species, chirping more in response. oThe young birds learn the songs, but the learning appears to be bounded by genetically controlled preferences. The sensitive period in a white-crowned sparrow’s learning of his song is followed by a second learning phase, when the juvenile bird sings some tentative notes that researchers call a subsong. oThe juvenile bird hears its own song and compares it with the song that it memorized in the sensitive period. oOnce they match, the bird sings that song for the rest of his life. Canaries may learn new song “syllables” each year, adding to their song during a yearly plastic song stage. Concept 51.4 Behavioral traits can evolve by natural selectionBecause of the influence of genes on behavior, natural selection can result in the evolution of behavioral traits in populations.