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Joshua Plotnik

Ph.D., Emory University


Department of Psychology
Hunter College, Room 631 North
695 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10065
Tel: (212) 396-6442

Comparative Cognition for Conservation Lab Website:



Current Areas of Research:

Dr. Plotnik studies the evolution of cognition across species, with a particular interest in how similarities in physical and social intelligence evolve in evolutionarily distant taxa. Dr. Plotnik works with a number of species, with a particular interest in the Asian elephant. His work aims to identify the sensory modalities most relevant to an animal's physical and social decision-making processes, and to use this information to develop cognitive tasks that allow for relevant comparisons within and across species. In addition, Dr. Plotnik has a strong interest in the applications of behavior and cognition research to conservation in practice, and works in Asia to use the study of elephant behavior as a tool for mitigating human/elephant conflict. Please see the comparative cognition for conservation lab website ( for more details.


Selected Publications:

  • Dale R, Plotnik J. 2017. Elephants know when their bodies are obstacles to success in a novel transfer task. Scientific Reports 7:46309.
  • Plotnik J, de Waal FBM. 2014. Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) reassure others in distress. PeerJ 2:e278.
  • Plotnik J, de Waal FBM. 2014. Extraordinary elephant perception. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111:5071-5072.
  • Plotnik J, Shaw R, Brubaker D, Tiller L, Clayton NS. 2014. Thinking with their trunks: Elephants use smell but not sound to locate food and exclude non-rewarding alternatives. Animal Behaviour 88:91-98.
  • MacLean EL…Plotnik JM, Clayton NS, et al. 2014. The evolution of self-control. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111:E2140-2148.
  • Plotnik J, Pokorny J, Keratimanochaya T, Webb C, Beronja H, Hennessy A, Hill J, Hill V, Kiss, R, Maguire C, Melville B, Morrison V, Seecoomar D, Singer B, Ukehaxhaj J, Vlahakis S, Ylli D, Clayton N, Roberts J, Fure E, Duchatelier A, Getz D. 2013. Visual cues given by humans are not sufficient for Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) to find hidden food. PLoS ONE 8:e61174.
  • Shaw R, Plotnik J, Clayton NS. 2013. Exclusion in corvids: the performance of food-caching Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) in two sensory modalities, J Comp Psychol 127:428.
  • Plotnik J, Lair R, Suphachoksahakun W, de Waal FBM. 2011. Elephants know when they need a helping trunk in a cooperative task. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:5116-5121.
  • Plotnik J, de Waal FBM, Moore D, Reiss D. 2009. Self-recognition in the Asian elephant and future directions for cognitive research with elephants in zoological settings. Zoo Biology 28:1-13.
  • Plotnik J, de Waal FBM, Reiss D. 2006. Self-recognition in an Asian elephant. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103:17053-17057.
  • Plotnik J, Nelson P, de Waal FBM. 2003. Visual field information in the face perception of chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1000:94-98.