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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Food sharing and social cognition

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Many non‐human animals share food with each other, with kin, mates, and other unrelated individuals. When individuals share food with others they lose a valuable resource. Thus, traditionally much research has investigated how this behavior can be an evolutionarily stable strategy. Only recently has food‐sharing behavior been exploited to investigate non‐human cognition. Certain evolutionarily stable strategies that have been proposed as accounts for food‐sharing behaviors, such as reciprocity and interchange, may rely on complex cognitive abilities. In these cases, individuals may calculate the benefit they may receive from sharing with the recipient. In some species, sharing of food can facilitate the recipients' rate and extent of learning. This form of teaching may be cognitively complex if the donor takes into account the level of the recipient's abilities. In addition, an animal's food‐sharing behavior, which in itself may be based on a simple cognitive mechanism, could be used as a tool to investigate the extent to which the individual may be capable of complex cognitive abilities, for example, mental‐state attribution. These three areas of research, reciprocity, teaching, and mental‐state attribution, illustrate how food‐sharing behavior can be used as a valuable natural behavior to investigate cognition in non‐human animals. WIREs Cogn Sci 2015, 6:119–129. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1329 This article is categorized under: Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition

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