Are You As Smart As A Raven?

15 July, 2017, 20:25 | Author: Oscar Goodwin
  • Ravens Ace Intelligence Tests, Exceeding the Skills of Some Primates

Some corvids have shown that in hoarding food, they do some planning for the future instead of just acting on natural urges.

The study, published yesterday in Science, shows that ravens (Corvus corax) can anticipate the nature, time and location of future events based on prior experiences.

How'd they get so smart?

If anything, primates are the only animals that are considered to be closest to having the human capability to plan ahead of the need. Their lives are a flow of action and reaction, making it hard, if not impossible, to think complex scenarios through.

Great apes, such as chimps and gorillas, possess similar skills, but monkeys previously flunked tests that ravens could ace. Corvids-a family of birds that includes ravens, jays, and crows-seem to delight in doing just that.

Lund University researcher Mathias Osvath raised five ravens for this study at his farm in Sweden.

During the tests the birds were shown a box that had a tube sticking out the top.

Juno the raven working the puzzle box. The box was taken away for an hour and then returned, but with several "distractor" tools.

They are nearly the only birds that produce tools (branches make hooks that get grubacic), and transfer these skills to the next generation, says Andriy Bokotey, President of the Western Ukrainian ornithological society. The birds performed similarly to apes with regard to tool use (even though they don't use tools themselves), and outperformed apes when it came to bartering. The researchers then moved the puzzle box out of the bird's sight.

The ravens also showed they could barter for what they needed.

The researchers repeated the same experiment with a 17-hour delay in returning the box to the ravens, and the success rate was 88.8 percent.

But the latest experiments revealed that ravens can wisely forego an immediate reward in order to get a better one in the future.

This type of planning has historically been thought to be unique to humans and great apes, according to the study published this week in the USA journal Science.

The work is the latest study that proves how advanced raven intelligence is. But, he says, "We don't know if they are social like that because they're clever, or the other way around".

Nieder was particularly impressed with the amount of cognitive control exhibited by the corvids.

The catch was that the food reward wasn't available until the next day. Afterwards, they had to select the correct item, hold onto it for 15 minutes, and the trade it with one of the researchers for a reward. This study suggests there may be some scientific basis to the idea. "That is one of the most astounding things in this universe", he says. "During training, the tool and token were both associated with food".

More than 170 years after Edgar Allan Poe's fictional raven croaked, "Nevermore", scientists are reporting that real-life ravens think about the future. There may be good reason for that.

In another experiment, the birds participated in a bartering test, said New Scientist.

Regardless, the new study is providing another fascinating glimpse into corvid intelligence, and the kind of smarts that are being produced by brains very different from our own. But when it comes to figuring out the outer bounds of cognitive abilities for a species, those aren't the most important problems to worry about. They even engage in play.

The independent emergence of flexible planning might be an example of convergent evolution, a phenomenon by which an environment selects for strikingly similar adaptations among unrelated lineages.

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