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The cephalopod specialties: complex nervous system, learning, and cognition 1

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While clearly of molluscan ancestry, the coleoid cephalopods are emergent within the phylum for complexity of brain and behaviour. The brain does not just have centralization of the molluscan ganglia but also contains lobes with “higher order” functions such as storage of learned information, and centres have been compared with the vertebrate cerebellum and frontal lobe. The flexible muscular hydrostat movement system theoretically has unlimited degrees of freedom, and octopuses are models for “soft movement” robots. The decentralized nervous system, particularly in the arms of octopuses, results in decision making at many levels. Free of the molluscan shell and with evolutionary pressure from the bony fishes, coleoids have evolved a specialty in cognition and they may have a simple form of consciousness. Cephalopods also have a skin display system of unmatched complexity and excellence of camouflage, also used for communication with predators and conspecifics. A cephalopod is first and foremost a learning animal, using the display system for deception, having spatial memory, personalities, and motor play. They represent an alternative model to the vertebrates for the evolution of complex brains and high intelligence, which has as yet been only partly explored.

Keywords: and intelligence; apprentissage et intelligence; brain–behaviour linkage; cephalopods; contrôle des mouvements; céphalopodes; learning; liens cerveau–comportement; movement control; skin display system; système de signalisation par la peau

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, The University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB T1K 3M4, Canada. 2: Department of Neurobiology, Institute of Life Sciences and Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation, Hebrew University, 91904 Jerusalem, Israel.

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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