Can animals imagine themselves like humans?

News portal - Ruhr University Bochum

People think continuously about their future. They imagine what the next vacation will be like or how they want to tackle the tasks of the next day. These thoughts are called mental time travel, which from an evolutionary point of view are quite useful, as they make it possible to be prepared for possible dangers in the future or to learn from past experiences.

But is this characteristic given to us humans alone or is it also common in the animal kingdom? After all, it seems, for example, as if a dog that has once again bitten into a pillow, already shortly after his act, knows what punishment he will now face - his posture and his gaze are crouched, although the master or mistress has not yet given a lecture .

Animals don't construct future scenarios

Philosopher Prof. Dr. Markus Werning and brain researcher Prof. Dr. Sen Cheng from RUB investigated this question together with the well-known animal cognitive researcher Prof. Thomas Suddendorf. Their conclusion: "There is no evidence that animals are able to construct, reflect on and compare different future scenarios," says Sen Cheng. "We therefore do not believe that animals can make mental time travel."

For example, the ability of squirrels to stock up on food for the winter as early as autumn cannot be interpreted as predictive action, but as an innate form of behavior. "The squirrel would still be collecting food if it had been fed in winter all of its life," said Cheng.