Saturday, 18 November, 2017

Ravens Can Plan Ahead, Similar to Humans and Great Apes

Ravens Ace Intelligence Tests, Exceeding the Skills of Some Primates Are You As Smart As A Raven?
Frank Williams | 15 July, 2017, 20:20

"The human brain stores memories of past events to guide decision-making about current and future events", wrote psychologists Markus Boeckle and Nicola Clayton of the University of Cambridge. "It isn't clear that this preferential selection reflects future planning". Can Kabadayi, a cognitive zoologist from Lund University, and co-author Mathias Osvath, set up a series of experiments to determine if ravens could deliberately prepare for future events, NPR reports. Obviously, that's not a lot of ravens, and hand-raised ravens do not behave like wild ravens.

Osvath hopes to conduct more studies on the birds' cognitive abilities. The ravens may not be thinking about the future at all, and are instead just choosing the object with the strongest association with the food, that is, the tool.

Jelly bean now, or burger tomorrow?

First, ravens were trained to drop a simple tool, a stone, into a puzzle box through an opaque tube, causing the box to release a reward from an opening in the bottom.

Therefore, scientists trained them to use rocks as tools.

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. Fifteen minutes later, the puzzle came back, and if the raven had chosen the right tool, they could open it.

For the third and fourth experiment (again involving short and long time intervals), the ravens were presented with the correct tool, some distractor objects, and - in a delicious twist - an immediate reward. 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. Without her, the average was 86 percent.

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According to an accompanying Perspective article in the magazine, ravens' motivation for planning is still unknown, but it may be similar to ours. They learned that a researcher would give food treats in exchange for a particular token.

These new tests suggest ravens have self-control on par with some great apes - and they're even potentially smarter than some of them when it comes to bartering tokens for food. They also aced the tasks when the waiting period was extended to overnight. These experiments show that ravens can "select, save, and later use either a tool or an exchangeable token that acquired functionality" both 15 minutes and 17 hours after being taken, noted the researchers in their study. Doing that requires not just planning, it also requires self-control. Recent studies showed that great apes have similar capabilities. They were able to complete the task better than four-year-old children.

But sometimes it's more complicated.

It is well known that ravens are smart, but a new study showed the birds may be more intelligent than we previously thought.

In the research it was also concluded that "Ravens are avian dinosaurs that shared an ancestor with mammals around 320 million years ago". It seems incredibly unlikely.

These planning skills likely developed and evolved through convergent evolution, Kabadayi said. Looking for the evolutionary pressures that lead to this kind of flexible cognition can help us to understand why humans, our close relatives, and a handful of other species ended up the way we are.

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