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Anim Cogn. 2004 Jan;7(1):5-18. Epub 2003 Dec 5.

New evidence of animal consciousness.

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Concord Field Station, Harvard University, Old Causeway Road, Bedford, MA 01730, USA.


This paper reviews evidence that increases the probability that many animals experience at least simple levels of consciousness. First, the search for neural correlates of consciousness has not found any consciousness-producing structure or process that is limited to human brains. Second, appropriate responses to novel challenges for which the animal has not been prepared by genetic programming or previous experience provide suggestive evidence of animal consciousness because such versatility is most effectively organized by conscious thinking. For example, certain types of classical conditioning require awareness of the learned contingency in human subjects, suggesting comparable awareness in similarly conditioned animals. Other significant examples of versatile behavior suggestive of conscious thinking are scrub jays that exhibit all the objective attributes of episodic memory, evidence that monkeys sometimes know what they know, creative tool-making by crows, and recent interpretation of goal-directed behavior of rats as requiring simple nonreflexive consciousness. Third, animal communication often reports subjective experiences. Apes have demonstrated increased ability to use gestures or keyboard symbols to make requests and answer questions; and parrots have refined their ability to use the imitation of human words to ask for things they want and answer moderately complex questions. New data have demonstrated increased flexibility in the gestural communication of swarming honey bees that leads to vitally important group decisions as to which cavity a swarm should select as its new home. Although no single piece of evidence provides absolute proof of consciousness, this accumulation of strongly suggestive evidence increases significantly the likelihood that some animals experience at least simple conscious thoughts and feelings. The next challenge for cognitive ethologists is to investigate for particular animals the content of their awareness and what life is actually like, for them.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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