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Book Chapter

Causal and inferential reasoning in animals


Völter,  Christoph J.       
Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;


Call,  Josep       
Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Völter, C. J., & Call, J. (2017). Causal and inferential reasoning in animals. In G. M. Burghardt, I. M. Pepperberg, C. T. Snowdon, & T. Zentall (Eds.), APA handbook of comparative psychology Vol 2: Perception, learning, and cognition (pp. 643-671). US: American Psychological Association.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002C-4803-2
Elucidating the nature, use, and origin of knowledge in animals is one of the major endeavors of comparative psychology. Two aspects of knowledge used in inferential reasoning are particularly relevant. First, there is the question of the types of relations established between stimuli (prediction vs. causation). Are stimuli considered as mere signals or predictors (i.e., moving branches indicate the presence of monkeys), or are they also conceived as causes for the observed effects (i.e., monkeys cause branches to move). Second, there is the question of how this knowledge is organized. Are multiple stimuli relations considered in isolation or are they organized into a coherent and fluid network? The goal of this chapter is to review the literature on inferential reasoning abilities of nonhuman animals paying special attention to the nature of the relations between stimuli. We begin by offering a definition of inference, some important key distinctions, and a classification of inferential abilities. The next sections will review what is known about basic inferences in nonhuman animals and explore the issue of causal maps and the evolution of causal reasoning. We will close by addressing four key issues for understanding inferential abilities in nonhuman animals: (a) which kinds of relations animals represent, (b) what kind of protological operations they apply to these representations, (c) how can the inferred relations be integrated in complex causal maps, and (d) how inferential reasoning may have evolved. Although our review will concentrate on work done in the laboratory in food acquisition, simply because this is the work that can distinguish between the various processes, we will include information about field data whenever possible.