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BRAIN / COGNITION / EVOLUTION

BRAIN / COGNITION / EVOLUTION

A responsible person thinks before acting, says conventional wisdom. But is it true? At ISTC the Goal-Oriented Agents Laboratory (GOAL) explores the connection between physical and cognitive skills, showing that thought doesn’t always come first.

Cracking a nut with a stone on an anvil: at first, we thought only humans and chimpanzees could do it. But recent findings show that wild capuchin monkeys also know how to use tools. There is a long tradition of primatological research at ISTC, and the Unit of Cognitive Primatology (UCP) was one of the first in the world to study the cognitive skills of capuchin monkeys.

The ability to delay gratification is a turning point in the development of any child and an hallmark of advanced cognition in many species. Nevertheless, most animals cannot withstand delays longer than few seconds, even when substantial rewards are at stake, and also humans are often strongly averse to waiting – think of yourself queuing at the post office and imagine how long you could endure it. Researchers at ISTC are studying adults, children and non-human primates to understand which factors affect our tolerance for delay. 

Capuchin monkeys can appreciate the purchasing power of tokens such as poker chips: at ISTC this is one of the most recent findings of the Unit of Cognitive Primatology (UCP). 

If you could see the film of your life, you would first see a curious baby learning basic actions by interacting with the environment, then a child mastering increasingly complex actions, then a teenager in a storm of emotions and body sensations, and finally an adult exhibiting a fully developed goal-directed behaviour. If you could give a look into your brain you would see 100 billions of neurons connected with tiny "wires" in total longer more than two times the earth circumference. Strange as it might appear, it is this intricate and apparently messy neural circuit that is responsible for the film of your life. How? At ISTC the Laboratory of Computational Embodied Neuroscience (LOCEN) is working to answer this question.