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14 - Bridging the Conceptual Gap between Inferential Reasoning and Problem Solving in Primates

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2022

Bennett L. Schwartz
Affiliation:
Florida International University
Michael J. Beran
Affiliation:
Georgia State University
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Summary

Although commonly treated as two separate areas of study in primate cognition, inferential reasoning and problem solving share two key features. They involve going “beyond the information given,” and they compete with associative accounts to explain observable behavior. Despite these commonalities, the study of inferential reasoning and problem solving differ in non-trivial ways from both a methodological and conceptual perspective. They use different setups and use different concepts to investigate how individuals innovate when faced with novel challenges. However, these differences, I will argue, are far less substantial than their commonalities, especially when contrasted with competing frameworks such as associative or perceptual-based accounts of behavior. In this chapter, I will review some of the most relevant empirical studies in primates on inferential reasoning and problem solving. In general, studies on inferential reasoning entail choosing from two or more alternatives to locate a hidden food item (e.g., object permanence) whereas problem-solving studies require individuals to overcome some obstacle that is blocking their access to a visible food item (e.g., tool use). I will then attempt to synthesize this information to extract the key theoretical constructs, paying particular attention to the commonalities and differences between them. Finally, I will contrast the “inferential” approach to other competing approaches (associative, perceptual) in an attempt to strengthen the ties between inferential reasoning and problem solving and propose ways to foster progress in the coming years.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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