Vol 10, Issue 4, November 2023

The Role of Umwelt in Animal Curiosity: A Within and Between Species Comparison of Novelty Exploration in Mongooses


Birchmeier, K., Johnson-Ulrich, L., & Forss, S. (2023). The role of umwelt in animal curiosity: A within and between species comparison of novelty exploration in mongooses. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 10(4), 329-354.  https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


In its broadest sense, curiosity has been described as an intrinsic motivation to acquire novel information; this ‘novelty-seeking’ is notably in the absence of any immediate reward. One way to examine information seeking in animals, has been to present animals with novel objects and measure the way animals gather information through exploration. While this is a standardized and common paradigm, few studies have focused on what factors influence how animals perceive novelty, whilst considering the predicted impacts of an animal’s ‘umwelt’ on exploration. In this study we assessed explorative behaviors in mongooses through both an intra and interspecific view. First, in meerkats (Suricata suricatta) tested in their natural environment, we established that they distinguish familiar from unfamiliar and show increased exploration of novel objects. We also found that odor influenced the meerkats’ explorative action, so that non-odorous items were manipulated longer. Presence of conspecifics influenced approaches to novelty, but not the exploration per se. Human presence interacted with an individual’s level of habituation to impact approaches and exploration of novelty and we found a strong captivity effect on exploration between captive and wild meerkats. Between species analysis showed that yellow mongooses (Cynictis penicillate), a less social mongoose than meerkats, showed higher levels of novelty exploration, when tested within the same habitat. Thus, these findings show that multiple factors, including perceptual abilities (merkwelt) and social factors (sozialwelt), are decisive for when and how animals explore their environment and must be considered both when designing novelty paradigm tests and their interpretations.


Novelty response, Information seeking, Exploration, Animal curiosity, Meerkats, Yellow mongoose