Niche Construction and Cognitive Evolution

Biological Theory 2 (3):250-262 (2007)
Abstract
Despite the fact that animal behavior involves a particularly powerful form of niche construction, few researchers have considered how the environmental impact of behavior may feed back to influence the evolution of the cognitive underpinnings of behavior. I explore a model that explicitly incorporates niche construction while tracking cognitive evolution. Agents and their stimuli are modeled as coevolving populations. The agents are born with “weights” attached to behaviors in a repertoire. Further, these agents are able to change these weights based on previous success and an inherited learning parameter. Both the agent and the stimulus receive payoffs through a behavioral interaction . The behaving agent exhibits niche construction through its effects on stimuli , which can feed back to influence the value of different cognitive strategies. Here I focus on two forms of niche construction: the stimulus and responding agent have common interests and the stimulus and agent have dissimilar interests . The form of niche construction qualitatively affects cognitive evolution . Given a mutualism between the stimulus and responding agent, rapid learning and “fixed” behavioral distributions evolve. Given an antagonism between the stimulus and agent, slower learning and “flexible” behavioral distributions evolve. I discuss these results in light of findings from the fields of ethology, psychology, and evolutionary ecology
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