Newsportal - Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Do animals contemplate their future?
Humans think about their future all the time. They picture their next holidays or make plans how to tackle the tasks of the following day. Such thoughts are referred to as mental time travel. From the evolutionary point of view, they are certainly useful because they enable individuals to protect themselves from potential future dangers or to learn from past experiences.
But are humans the only ones who possess this capacity or does it also occur in the animal kingdom? After all, it would appear that a dog who had once again bitten a pillow to shreds is aware of the punishment that awaits him almost immediately after the deed – his body posture and his gaze are lowered even though he has not yet been scolded by his master or mistress.
Animals do not construct future scenarios
In collaboration with the renowned animal cognition researcher Prof Dr Thomas Suddendorf, the philosopher Prof Dr Markus Werning and the brain researcher Prof Dr Sen Cheng have been investigating this question.
Their conclusion is: “There is no evidence that animals are able to construct, reflect and compare different future scenarios like humans are. We therefore don’t believe that animals are capable of mental time travel,” says Prof Sen Cheng. For example, the ability of squirrels to cache food in autumn for the winter can be interpreted as an innate behaviour and not as an anticipatory activity. “The squirrel would hoard food even if it had been fed in the winter all its life,” says Cheng.
11 February 2016