Ravens parallel great apes in flexible planning for tool-use and bartering


"The conspicuous similarities in performance to great apes in tasks such as these opens up avenues for investigation into the evolutionary principles of cognition and shows what the brains of some birds are capable of".

"Our results show that ravens combine a set of skills to solve a range of tasks in a similar way to apes, "Mathias Osvath, lead author from the University of Lund in Sweden, told ScienceAlert".

For the new series of experiments, Osvath and Kabadayi first trained the ravens to use a tool, which again was a stone, to open the puzzle box in order to access a food reward.

During the tests the birds were shown a box that had a tube sticking out the top. The ravens were then showed various tools and other 'distractors.' As a result, nearly all of the ravens picked out the correct tool and then successfully used the tool to open the box in 86 per cent of the tests. Despite the delay, the ravens chose the correct tool almost 80 percent of the time, and successfully used the tools they selected 86 percent of the time. In a similar experiment, the birds exchanged a blue bottle cap for a treat.

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Planning tends to come about when the higher value of a future reward is palpable, or when one imagines the happiness that will come by retrieving food in the future, they wrote. But as with the case of the stone, in majority of the cases, the birds chose the tool that had a possibility of obtaining food in the future. Their findings were published Thursday in the journal Science. 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. "That's what we are talking about here, planning based on past experience", Osvath tells William Wan at The Washington Post.

The first experiment measured whether the birds could plan for an event down the track in intervals of 15 minutes. The experiments centered on tool use and bartering with humans, and were created to be similar to experiments carried out with apes, making it possible to draw comparisons between the two.

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

A recent study found that ravens are far better at planning ahead in comparison to four-year-old children as well as orangutans and chimpanzees.

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This research does more than just reveal that the raven is smarter than we thought, that apes' intellectual abilities are less unique than we thought, and that a mammalian lineage is a not a prerequisite for complex thinking. Studies in the past 10 years have suggested that apes and scrub jays are also able to make such plans. The work, also from Lund University, showed the birds were able to get a treat from inside a transparent cylindrical tube using holes at the end, instead of pecking at the plastic.

In one test, the birds were taught how to open a box with a tool. Monkeys don't. But a paper in Science this week reports a small group of corvids succeeding at future-planning tasks. "So I think one of the most interesting open questions in the field of animal cognition right now is, how on Earth the birds do it with this smaller brain?" But, he says, "We don't know if they are social like that because they're clever, or the other way around". "But if that's all you focus on, you miss the wider question of cognition and its awesome place in nature".

They were allowed to choose one thing from the tray.

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