Dr. Preston Foerder, visiting assistant professor in The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Psychology, will present his research on “Insightful Problem Solving in Asian Elephants” on Tuesday, November 13, from 2-3 p.m. in the Signal Mountain Room of the UTC University Center.
This event is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the UTC Chapter of Sigma Xi, the honor society of research scientists and engineers.
The “aha” moment or the sudden arrival of the solution to a problem is a common human experience. Spontaneous problem solving without evident trial and error behavior in humans and other animals has been referred to as insight. Surprisingly, elephants, thought to be highly intelligent, have failed to exhibit insightful problem solving in previous cognitive studies.
Through a series of experiments, Foerder tested whether three Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) at the National Zoo would use sticks or other objects to obtain food items placed out-of-reach. Without prior trial and error behavior, a seven-year-old male elephant solved the problem under a variety of conditions, providing the first evidence for insightful problem solving in this species.
Foerder earned the Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His research has spanned a broad range of species including fish, penguins, and walruses. His research on elephants provided the first evidence for insightful problem solving in that species and was published last year in the online journal PLoS ONE.
This research was featured in The Washington Post, Science Magazine, the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s The Nature of Things, and The Today Show.
Foerder has been a member of Sigma Xi since 2005.
When he is not studying animal cognition, Foerder is an award-winning puppeteer.