Behavioral flexibility, or having a diverse behavioral repertoire that allows animals to respond in a number of ways to novel situations, is a critically important area of research. Given human-induced rapid environmental change, it is imperative that we understand how animals some animals may readily adapt to changing environments, while others may require more focused interventions in the face of increased habitat loss and encroachment. Related to the ability to behave flexibly is exhibiting inhibition control, or the ability to inhibit irrelevant, previously known information in order to approach or solve a problem, has been studied in a number of animal species. This concept is also known as inhibitory control, self-control, and is highly related to inhibitors of innovation (e.g., conservatism, conformity; see Brosnan and Hopper, 2014). Inhibition control is highly important for animals to remain adaptive to changing environments. For example, a raccoon may know how to access food from a trash can of one model, but if that raccoon uses that same method for every type of trash can it encounters, that animal will likely not be successful. For novel situations, animals may need to be able to inhibit previous knowledge in order to find a solution for the novel problem. MacLean et al. (2014) found a number of diverse species exhibited inhibition control on two tasks, A-not-B and the cylinder task. The breadth of animals in this study included animals such as great apes, old and new world monkeys, rodents, canids, elephants, and birds.
Lauren Stanton, a Ph.D. student in the lab, and Sarah Daniels, a M.S. student in the lab, are currently exploring if raccoons exhibit behavioral flexibility and inhibition control using different types of cognitive puzzles. We understand raccoons to be highly adaptable to a number of varying environments, so we think they should excel in tasks that require inhibiting previous knowledge to adapt to a new context. We will continue to explore inhibition control and innovative problem solving in raccoons through various other projects.
Brosnan & Hopper (2014).
MacLean et al. (2014).