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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Mental time travel in animals

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Abstract Twelve years on from Suddendorf and Corballis's mental time travel (MTT) hypothesis, the debate as to whether episodic cognition is unique to humans remains unresolved. In this article, we review the evidence for mental time travel in nonhuman animals and the empirical methods used in this field. Investigation of episodic‐like memory has been dominated by ‘What–Where–When’ paradigms, with limited success outside of food‐caching corvids, and with only scrub‐jays meeting Clayton and colleagues' more specific description of the underlying mnemonics. The recent emergence of an ‘unexpected question’ paradigm tapping recall of unattended aspects of episodes provides a promising new avenue for future studies. Falsification of the Bischof–Köhler hypothesis, that acting to satisfy a future motivational state is beyond the scope of nonhuman animals, has been the ‘holy grail’ of animal future planning research, spawning a plethora of studies. We argue that although the criterion proposed by this hypothesis provides a test for an explicit representation of a future time, it does nothing to get at whether planning for this future is mediated by semantic or episodic processes. WIREs Cogn Sci 2010 1 915–930 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Memory

Scrub‐Jays cache and retrieve wax worms and peanuts. The trial designation refers to the length of the time that elapsed between caching and recovering the wax worms. Shading indicates areas inaccessible for caching. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 26. Copyright 1998 Nature Publishing Group.)

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Scrub‐jays are fed to satiety on food A and then allowed to cache foods A and B. Later, they are fed to satiety on food B and allowed to retrieve their caches. On day 2, the proportion of caches of food A, which would be preferred at the time of retrieval, was significantly higher than on day one. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 111. Copyright 2007 Thomson Reuters.)

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Receiver operating characteristics for recognition in humans and rats. (a–c) Performance of humans in verbal recognition. (d–f) Performance of rats in odor recognition. (d) Normal rats tested with a 30‐min delay. (e) Postoperative performance with a 30‐min delay, including an estimated curve for controls based on familiarity alone (con F). (f) Control rats tested with a 75‐min memory delay. Diagonal dotted lines represent chance performance. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 79. Copyright 2004 Nature Publishing Group.)

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Pigeons were trained to indicate which side key they had pecked in response to a stimulus, they were then trained to respond on a side key to which color they had seen. On probe trials they were then asked which side they had pecked after responding to a hue‐discrimination. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 44. Copyright 2008 Elsevier.)

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Rats are familiarized with the E‐shaped maze in two contexts, with objects in different locations. They are then habituated to two of the objects. On return to the maze in one of the contexts, they are able to search for the nonhabituated object. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 34. Copyright 2005 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.)

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