Future thinking in animals: Capacities and Limits

I recently received the hard copy of the first book in which I have a published chapter! In the chapter, written with my brilliant friend and colleague Jon Redshaw, we discuss the future thinking capacities of non-human animals. There are many deep questions about the manner in which non-human animals think about, imagine and prepare for the future – and the similarities and differences between these capacities and human ones. Here is a brief synopsis of the chapter:

The previous two decades have seen much theoretical and empirical research into the future thinking capacities of non-human animals. Here we critically review the evidence across six domains: (1) navigation and route planning, (2) intertemporal choice and delayed gratification, (3) preparing for future threats, (4) acquiring and constructing tools to solve future problems, (5) acquiring, saving and exchanging tokens for future rewards, and (6) acting with future desires in mind. In each domain we show that animals are capable of considerably more sophisticated future-oriented behavior than was once thought possible. Explanations for these behaviors remain contentious, yet in some cases it may be most parsimonious to attribute animals with mental representations that go beyond the here-and-now. Nevertheless, we also make the case that animals may not be able to represent future representations as future representations – an overarching capacity that allows humans to reflect on their own natural future thinking limits and act to compensate for these limits. Throughout our analysis we make specific suggestions for how future research can continue to make progress on this and other important questions in the field.

We summarise the future thinking capacities and limits of non-human animals in the following table:


You can read our full chapter as a PDF here. 
If you’re interested in the topic, the book can be purchased here from amazon.