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No bird-brain here: Ravens can plan ahead

17 Julio 2017
No bird-brain here: Ravens can plan ahead

In a series of experiments on five hand-raised ravens described by Professor Osvath and Can Kabadayi, a doctoral student at Lund, published in the journal Science on Thursday, ravens display the ability to think ahead and deliberately prepare for future events.

One of the female ravens even appeared to have outsmarted the scientists.

It's not like you could ask a raven to arrange your wedding: Ravens showed they could plan by setting aside a tool that they suspected would get them a tasty treat later. The sheer density of neurons in a bird's brain, even though it is small compared to apes, might also play a role. When the ravens were presented with the box 15 minutes later, they used the tool to open it, and with a success rate of 86 per cent. Similar results were achieved in the second experiment, in which the birds waited 17 hours for the box to reappear. They also tested their self control - whether the ravens were willing to forgo an immediate reward for a bigger one in the future - over two different time periods.

Kabadayi and the cognitive zoologist Mathias Osvath planned out to figure out if ravens had the ability to plan for events that are supposed to happen, instead of just 'living in the moment', considering these birds are regarded as extremely intelligent. "This is the first time we have clear evidence in any animal [excluding humans]", said Bockle in a statement.

The researchers note in their paper that the ravens' performance bore "conspicuous similarities" to the abilities of great apes in similar tasks. But some of them decide to stick around and sneak bits of food from humans.

These studies were carefully set up to show that the ravens could plan under flexible conditions-different time delays, and solving either a mechanical (puzzle box) or social (bartering) problem. They were able to complete the task better than four-year-old children. 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.

Swedish scientists from Lund University conducted this new study.

"To be able to solve tasks like these, one needs a collection of cognitive abilities working in concert, such as inhibitory skills and different forms of memory".

Then, the box and the stone were removed.

Researchers consider that they should test and monitor more species, to try and determine if these too can plan ahead. Fascinatingly, the ravens performed better in the bartering tests than orangutans, bonobos and chimps, as shown in other studies.

An hour later, the ravens were given the opening tool, as well as several items meant to distract them. One of these is their ability to see ahead.

Taylor says this is the key control - divorcing the token from food association - that's missing from the study. They even have a brain structure that's analogous to the mammalian neocortex - the part responsible for higher order functioning like conscious thought, sensory perception, spatial reasoning and language. They can infer when they are being watched, suggesting that they possess a theory of mind.

The work is the latest study that proves how advanced raven intelligence is.