Research Topic

Cognitive worlds: Explaining social complexity through inter-individual behavioural variability & intra-individual plasticity in cognitive mechanisms

About this Research Topic

A wide range of species, including humans, are social to varying degrees, and a host of factors, both ultimate and proximate, have been implicated in the origin and maintenance of their sociality. What is remarkable, however, is that social coherence is maintained at the species-level despite significant behavioral variation and plasticity at the individual level. For example, in a particular society, some individuals may be more ‘sociable’ than others, some more socially ‘attractive’ or others relatively solitary and yet, sociality is effectively maintained.

Nevertheless, our obsession with generalised, species-typical patterns have led to the majority of our studies traditionally neglecting behavioral variation within populations and across individuals. This has also made us erroneously believe that certain social decisions, made by different individuals under different circumstances within a social network, have the same underlying cognitive decision rule. Consequently, the variability in cognitive decision rules and their applicability to different social situations, which exist within individual behavioral repertoires, have remained largely understudied and undocumented.
Very little is therefore known about the mechanisms of cognitive decision-making that underlie the cross-individual behavioral variability and intra-individual plasticity, through which sociality is maintained. Such understandings can only emerge through robust empirical evidence drawn from observational and empirical studies that span the cognitive and behavioral biology of differently social species.

Our insights into the evolution of nonhuman and human sociality have mainly come from existing research on nonhuman primates, canids or corvids. Still, for a more comprehensive understanding of social cognitive mechanisms, more study systems need to be comparatively investigated. In this connection, we would like to particularly emphasise the importance of interdisciplinary studies on human-animal interactions involving domesticated species and individuals, which have had long evolutionary and ontogenetic histories of living close to our societies.

We thus aim to receive both original research articles and comprehensive reviews of human and nonhuman sociality and social behavior, with a special focus on the variability and plasticity, explaining their underlying cognitive processes. We are particularly interested in observational and empirical studies that address inter-individual variability in social behavior across populations and in the social flexibility and plasticity exhibited by individuals within such populations.


Keywords: Social cognition, Animal cognition, Comparative cognition, Animal behaviour, Behavioural variation, Behavioural plasticity, Cognitive mechanisms, Inter-individual variability, Intra-individual plasticity, Social animals, Domestic animals


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

A wide range of species, including humans, are social to varying degrees, and a host of factors, both ultimate and proximate, have been implicated in the origin and maintenance of their sociality. What is remarkable, however, is that social coherence is maintained at the species-level despite significant behavioral variation and plasticity at the individual level. For example, in a particular society, some individuals may be more ‘sociable’ than others, some more socially ‘attractive’ or others relatively solitary and yet, sociality is effectively maintained.

Nevertheless, our obsession with generalised, species-typical patterns have led to the majority of our studies traditionally neglecting behavioral variation within populations and across individuals. This has also made us erroneously believe that certain social decisions, made by different individuals under different circumstances within a social network, have the same underlying cognitive decision rule. Consequently, the variability in cognitive decision rules and their applicability to different social situations, which exist within individual behavioral repertoires, have remained largely understudied and undocumented.
Very little is therefore known about the mechanisms of cognitive decision-making that underlie the cross-individual behavioral variability and intra-individual plasticity, through which sociality is maintained. Such understandings can only emerge through robust empirical evidence drawn from observational and empirical studies that span the cognitive and behavioral biology of differently social species.

Our insights into the evolution of nonhuman and human sociality have mainly come from existing research on nonhuman primates, canids or corvids. Still, for a more comprehensive understanding of social cognitive mechanisms, more study systems need to be comparatively investigated. In this connection, we would like to particularly emphasise the importance of interdisciplinary studies on human-animal interactions involving domesticated species and individuals, which have had long evolutionary and ontogenetic histories of living close to our societies.

We thus aim to receive both original research articles and comprehensive reviews of human and nonhuman sociality and social behavior, with a special focus on the variability and plasticity, explaining their underlying cognitive processes. We are particularly interested in observational and empirical studies that address inter-individual variability in social behavior across populations and in the social flexibility and plasticity exhibited by individuals within such populations.


Keywords: Social cognition, Animal cognition, Comparative cognition, Animal behaviour, Behavioural variation, Behavioural plasticity, Cognitive mechanisms, Inter-individual variability, Intra-individual plasticity, Social animals, Domestic animals


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 December 2020 Abstract
31 July 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 December 2020 Abstract
31 July 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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