Non-human animals “are bound to a present that is defined by their current motivational state” (Suddendorf and Corbalis, 1997). Discuss the evidence for and against this claim. What are the implications of this claim for our evaluation of human understanding about time?

The claim that nonhuman animals are bound to a present that is defined by their current motivational state draws upon the debate about whether non-human animals have an understanding of time. Time is defined by four different points; remembering the past, planning/ speculating about the future, comparisons about places in time and structuring those experiences with time. Early research into time has claimed that an understanding of time is distinctly human, Tulving (1983). This falls under the Bischof-Kohler hypothesis which states that only humans have evidence of higher cognitive functions such as time, which other animals do not. Suddendorf and Cobalis (1997), and other researchers such as Roberts (2002) have noted that animals are bound to their motivation current state, thus are stuck in time.

Research since these first claims by Tulving (1983) and later Suddendorf and Cobalis (1997) have been tested with many animal species such as rats, corvids and monkeys. Rats have been found to think retrospectively and prospectively about food on a 12 radial arm maze. They were tested with either early (would affect prospective thinking) or late delays (would affect retrospective thinking) when retrieving food. It was found that actually these delays affected the rats ability to find the food most in the middle of their search therefore suggesting they use both retrospective and prospective methods together. However, this must be taken with caution as the arts may have been associating the arms with food or not rather than a more complex thinking about time. Futhermore this may be evidence of good memory in contrast to good use of mental time travel, so perhaps backs the Bishof-Kohler hypothesis.

Evidence of good mental time travel is more evident in western scrub jays as researched by Mulcahy and Call (2006). They have first suggested that perhaps using activities such as caching alone for evidence of an understanding of time is limited due to not knowing how these behaviours originated through evolution. However, Clayton and Dickenson (1998), take the opposite view and use these natural behaviours to their advantage in experimental manipulations. Time has been suggested that Episodic Memory must be present in order for an understanding of time to develop, however in all species this is hard to measure due to the demand of language. Therefore other methods must be adapted to explore episodic memory in animals. These methods include finding evidence of what-where-when memories, similar to that of episodic memories. Clayton and Dickenson (1998), found that scrub jays will learn that worms go off after 124 hours and therefore won’t retrieve this food, even though it is preferable to peanuts, which were also cached. This is evidence of future planning as all associative clues such as smell were removed.

When similar tasks are replicated with monkeys they always go to the preffered food regardless as to whether it has gone off or not, Hampton et al (2006). This therefore supports Bischof-Kohler hypothesis as they don’t show evidence of time. However Monkeys do not cache in the wild and therefore this method is not representative of what a Monkey would do in the wild. Therefore this is not to say that they don’t have an understanding of time, just that this may not be the best way to measure it. In light of human conclusions of understanding of time, perhaps it is too final to suggest that animals don’t have an understanding of time when they fail a task. Perhaps they have just not been tested in the right way to reveal their understanding in line with what they are familiar with.

Evidence for the future is a bit slimmer however has been identified in both corvids, scrub jays and monkeys. Raby (2007) found that scrub jays would cache more food in an area where they were given no food, this seems to be a behaviour of planning for the future. However this may be associative learning that this container means hunger therefore an explanation of why they cache food here. Correia (2007) explored this finding more through scrub jays ability to cache food when satiated of a specific food. The scrub jays were satiated on peanuts then allowed to cache either peanuts or kibble then exposed to only kibble then given the caching tray back. More often than not in the first few trials they cached kibble which is what they were most recently satiated on and therefore desired the peanuts. After a few trials the scrub jays began to cache peanuts even when fully satiated, evidence for future planning. This future planning may be evidence for mental time travel as they realising the causation between satiation and food and also are imagining them self in the future. However, we are unable to test the sequencing element of time in animals. Evidence of causation and self in time has also been found in monkeys by Mulcahy and Call (2006). They showed monkeys one room with an apparatus and a selection of tools. Then they were taken to a waiting room for 1 hour and returned to the test room. After the warm up trials it was recorded how many took the key tool to the test room so that they could work on the apparatus, 70% passed this task. Again this shows evidence for mental time travel through causation and self in time. This has implications for human studies as it suggest that these animals have an understanding of time, yet no evidence of sequencing. Thus, a new categorisation of time must be developed as both humans and animals show evidence however, different criterias are being met.

In conclusion, the domain of time falls into categories of how we understand how it works and use it in everyday life. Originally, it may have been assumed that to have an understanding of time, that all elements of time must be understood but perhaps this is far more advanced than is needed for an animal’s understanding of time. The animals presented in the studies above have demonstrated their understanding of time in 1 or more explanations of understanding time. The fact that animals do not have a full understanding of time does not lessen their abilities in the one or two domains that they are showing success in. Therefore in relation to our conclusions of human’s understanding of time, perhaps the point at which a person has an understanding of time needs to be established. Is an understanding of time declared when just one element is passed. Or is an understanding of time declared when all elements are passed. Further to this does this mean that passing one element is a basic level which then develops to more complex understanding, or is time one concept that must be grasped fully all at the same time.


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