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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Cognitive ecology: ecological factors, life‐styles, and cognition

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Cognitive ecology integrates cognition, ecology, and neurobiology in one topic and has recently broadened into an exciting diversity of themes covering the entire range of cognition and ecological conditions. The review identifies three major environmental factors interacting with cognition: environmental variation (predictable and unpredictable), environmental complexity and predation. Generally, variable environments favor cognitive abilities such as exploration, learning, innovation, memory and also result in larger brains as compared to stable environments. Likewise, cognition is enhanced in complex versus simple environments, whereas the relationship between predation and cognitive abilities can be positive or negative. However, organisms have often evolved entire life‐styles (e.g., residency versus migration, food‐caching versus noncaching, generalism versus specialism) to deal with these environmental factors. Considering cognition within this framework provides a much more diverse picture of how cognitive abilities evolved in conjunction with other adaptations to environmental challenges. This integrated approach identifies gaps of knowledge and allows the formulation of hypotheses for future testing. Several recently emerged approaches study cognitive abilities at a new and in part highly integrated level. For example, the effect that environment has on the development of cognitive abilities during ontogeny will improve our understanding about cause and effect and gene–environment interactions. Together with two recently emerged highly integrative approaches that link personality and pace‐of‐life syndromes with cognitive ecology these new directions will improve insight how cognition is interlinked with other major organizational processes. This article is categorized under: Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition Psychology > Learning Neuroscience > Cognition
Cognitive adaptations to variable environmental factors under consideration of specific life‐styles. The occurrence of particular life‐styles across different environmental factors is shown for increasing seasonality within predictable conditions and decreasing predictability within unpredictable conditions. Furthermore, effects of increasing harshness on life‐styles are indicated along a yellow–red gradient (yellow: mild; red: harsh) Cognitive adaptations are linked to particular life‐styles. *Occurrence of residents and accompanying cognitive adaptations are depicted for residents without specific adaptations (caching, tool use) and in relation to occurrence of migrants and their cognitive adaptations. Neo: neophobia; NTH: Neophobia Treshold hypothesis; DNH: Dangerous Niche hypothesis; expl: exploration; innov: innovation; learn: learning; obj: object; hipp: hippocampus; Gen: Generalist; Spec: Specialist.
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Two‐factor model for the occurrence of neophilia (exploration) and neophobia in response to general environmental variables. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2001 Springer Science + Business Media B.V.)
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Psychology > Learning
Neuroscience > Cognition
Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition

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