Description of impact

The impact of this case is to make people aware of the extent to which the mental capacities of humans and other species of animal are similar. Human minds have many facets. We use language to communicate intentionally and can reason about the properties of an object (e.g. inferring a continuity of existence when the object is out of sight). We are curious, we use physical and social tools to achieve goals, and we construct and enjoy music. Philosophers and psychologists at the University of St Andrews have discovered that some animals behave in a way that suggests equivalent capacities (e.g. making intentional gestures and searching for objects hidden from sight). The essence of these empirical studies is presented to the public to achieve the second domain of impact which is to foster critical thinking as to (1) the nature of evidence for a mental ability or behavioural capacity, and (2) the manner in which scientific experiments can provide that evidence. The impact affects children and adults alike, because it is occurring through mainstream school education, through outreach (including educational programmes within prisons) and through public interactive exhibitions (particularly Living Links at Edinburgh Zoo). The mental abilities of animals (and human infants) without language are the subject of current research and philosophical debate. The impact from our work is to get people to be aware of the ongoing controversy, to make up their own minds about existing evidence and to think up experiments which could resolve the issues.
Impact statusOpen
Category of impactPublic Discourse Impact