Study suggests ravens are great at planning ahead

Nearly every raven chose the correct apparatus-opening tool upon being presented with the box 15 minutes later they used the tool to open it with a success rate of 86 per cent

Nearly every raven chose the correct apparatus-opening tool upon being presented with the box 15 minutes later they used the tool to open it with a success rate of 86 per cent

In one of the tasks, the birds were given a tool that could be used to open a puzzle box that had a food reward within. In most cases, the ravens chose the correct tool and used it to unlock the box with a success rate of 86 percent.

"For ravens just as for humans, memories are thus more for the future than for the past".

In a series of tests, ravens showed signs of a general planning ability that previously had been documented only in people and great apes.

Researchers tested ravens' planning abilities on a farm in Sweden.

However, a paper published in a leading journal called Science described how these birds were easily able to pick out tools which would assist them later on for use and could also barter with humans, exchanging a current token for a future reward.

During their study the ravens were presented with a task for the very first time, which is evaluated as a test of intelligence rather than habit, and performed better in comparison to the performance of a four-year-old. They were then offered this choice a second time, and chose the food, showing that they were not choosing the tool because it was a highly positive object, but because of its use in the future. This led to them learning and being able to replicate the actions up to 17 hours later.

The results of the study suggest that ravens are capable of planning and deciding for the future outside of their immediate sensory context. What they did was to present the ravens with a tray that contained the stone or bottle cap, the distractors, and an immediate reward. Recent studies showed that great apes have similar capabilities.

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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.

In one experiment, the ravens were shown the box, but without any stones available. But, he says, "We don't know if they are social like that because they're clever, or the other way around". 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.

Alice Auersperg, a behavioural and cognitive scientist at Vienna's University of Veterinary Medicine (also not involved in the study), was likewise impressed with the study.

"I feel we need more evidence to rule out the possibility of an explanation based on simple attraction to the highly rewarding tool", as opposed to the lower quality food reward, Taylor told Gizmodo. There may be good reason for that.

Is it really that surprising, though, especially after we learned that these same birds have the capability of remembering humans who treated them unfairly? "Like monkeys - they don't even pass the baseline studies".

The independent emergence of flexible planning might be an example of convergent evolution, a phenomenon by which an environment selects for strikingly similar adaptations among unrelated lineages. Previous studies have shown that, pound for pound, birds pack more neurons into their tiny brains than mammals, including primates.

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