Ravens better than 4-year-old children at planning.
In a fascinating set of experiments, Kabadayi and Osvath show that ravens can plan for both tool-use and bartering. The central question is whether certain nonhuman animals can act cognitively rather than instinctively in the present so as to achieve a future goal. There is a suite of skills implicit in such behaviour. These include hypothesising, memory, imagination (of the future) and self-control. The results of the experiment were striking. The ravens clearly demonstrated the ability to use an unfamiliar tool in a novel task. Moreover, they could save the tool or a token for exchange for the tool for a later time, contingent upon earning a later reward. They could even do this when an alternative, immediate but smaller reward was available to them as they were making their decision.
The authors also note that the forebrain structures in a raven’s brain, where cognition takes place, must have evolved independently from those of mammals. The authors conclude that, with respect to tool use, the ravens are the equal of apes. With respect to bartering, they are ahead of apes and indeed of four-year-old human children too.
Link to paper: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/357/6347/202
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