Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Reflections on Adaptive Behavior: Essays in Honor of J.E.R. Staddon

First Page


Last Page


Additional Publication URL


Women and elephants never forget an injury.

-Saki (H. H. Munro), "Reginald on besetting sins," in Reginald (1904)

I am not sure whether the satirist H. H. Munro believed Saki's claim, although it may well be true (at least with regard to elephants). This chapter will examine some characteristics of elephant memory more systematically than did Saki.

In general, it is to an animal's advantage to remember some aspects (usually the stable features) of a situation for long periods and to remember other aspects (usually the unstable features) only temporarily. Consistent with recent arguments questioning the value of cognitive constructs for studying animal behavior (Grau 2002; Staddon 2001a,b; Wright and Watkins 1987), I will use "reference memory" and "working memory" (Baddeley and Hitch 1974; Honig 1978) only as descriptive terms indicating formal task requirements. (See Olton, Becker, and Handelmann 1979.) The stable characteristics of the test situation (such as the shape of the spatial array of food sources) are said to involve reference memory; those features that vary across trials (such as the sequence of food sites visited on a trial) are said to involve working memory. My main goal is to demonstrate that elephants can remember which locations they have visited during a spatial memory test similar to the "radial maze" (Olton and Samuelson 1976). The data will show that elephants rely on memory to solve several spatial problems, rather than relying on their response biases (Dale and Innis 1986) or their excellent olfactory abilities (Rasmussen and Krishnamurthy 2000). In addition, I will describe research showing that performance on the memory task is susceptible to proactive interference and that the retention of reference memory components of the test procedures is durable.


"The Spatial Memory of African Elephants (Loxodonta africana): Durability, Interference, and Response Biases" was originally published in:

Innis, N.K.. (Ed.). (2008). Reflections on Adaptive Behavior: Essays in Honor of J.E.R. Staddon. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

and appears in Digital Commons @ Butler University with the permission of MIT Press.