The cognitive research conducted at the National Zoo occupies a unique niche within the Smithsonian Institution as well as within the broader museum and zoological communities.
Based on a Darwinian perspective, this research focuses on identifying the origins of complex mental abilities, as well as describing the range of cognitive skills that exist in non-human species. All research is hypothesis driven and peer reviewed pre- and post-data collection. The results inform the scientific community that is engaged in understanding non-human mental processes.
Three equally important factors characterize all of the cognitive studies that are conducted within NZP.
Overall, this branch of science has emerged as the academic
intersection between biology, psychology, and neuroscience.
Our understanding of the cognitive skills of other species
is forcing a paradigm shift in our definition of what is
uniquely human. Complex mental abilities are clearly not
restricted to the human species, however a firm understanding
of the range of abilities that are present in non-humans
is only beginning to be understood.