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Friday, October 09, 2009

Rooks intelligence

There's an interesting story in the online edition of New Scientist.

It seems Rooks appear to have a better understanding of how gravity works than chimps and babies under 6 months old.

Apparently a common way of finding out whether animals and babies understand complex concepts is to show them images of impossible events. The idea is that viewers spend longer looking at those which defy their expectations, it is assumed they are trying to work out what's going on.

Chris Bird (Cambridge Univerity) and Nathan Emery (University of London), showed rooks computer-generated images, half of which were impossible according to the laws of gravity, such as an egg floating in mid-air above a table. Almost without exception, the rooks spent more time looking at the "impossible" images than the possible ones. They also took more second glances.

The responses were the same when the "familiar" egg shape was replaced by a cork, proving the birds' insight applied equally to any object, familiar or not. The researchers say the result is consistent with rooks being able to solve complex problems from knowledge of cause and effect, rather than by trial and error.

Alex Kacelnik, who studies corvid intelligence at Oxford was surprised that chimpanzees "failed" the same test.

It could be that chimps may respect gravity but fail to infer its presence in a virtual scene between external objects, but I also find this a striking inability

4 comments:

Dorothea said...

"images of impossible events ... viewers spend longer looking at those which defy their expectations, it is assumed they are trying to work out what's going on"

Puts me in mind of the local Council ... or Government ... you just have to keep watching their antics in a sort of incredulous, fascinated horror.

holdingmoments said...

The Corvids are a pretty smart bunch of birds. More intelligence in a lot of animals, than I think humans give them credit for.
Another interesting post Pete.

oldcrow61 said...

I've always known that the corvids were brilliant. There's so much we don't know about other creatures.

Anna said...

Damn right corvids are smart. Blue jays will hide food from others, and if they know another jay is watching them do the hiding they'll wait til it's not looking then rehide the food somewhere else.

That suggests "theory of mind", which was until recently thought to be a human-only trait. It's pretty advanced, and something human babies don't have - it takes years of development before they show it.

And ravens can problem-solve and use tools. I saw a study once where ravens had to use a stick to get a treat out of a perspex box, they had to select the right size and shape stick for different boxes. And they can even use one stick to get a second stick out of a box, then use that one to get the food. Amazing.