Crows/Jays Equal Children in Tests of Aesop Fable

Posted on 06 October 2012 by Jerry

Studies of the Corvid Family of birds (crows, ravens, jays, etc.) further demonstrate their higher intellectual capabilities.  In a study entitled “How Do Children Solve Aesop’s Fable” published in the July 25, 2012 issue of PLoS ONE, crows and jays demonstrated problem solving ability equal to children between four years to seven years of age.  As described in an Aesop Fable, a thirsty crow comes upon a half filled jug of water.  Unable to reach the water to drink, the crow drops pebbles into the jug until it raises the water level high enough to take a drink. Confronting tests which exhibited similar problem solving situations crows and jays performed at a level comparable to children between ages four and seven.

Experimenters demonstrated that corvids are not only capable of mastering this behavior but showed an ability to understand that larger stones raised the water level faster than smaller pebbles. The study showed that developmentally at age eight children improve their intuitive problem solving and surpass what corvids can achieve.  The report states, “Children between 4 and 10 years of age were tested on the same tasks as the birds.  Overall the performance of the children between 5-7 years was similar to that of the birds, where children from 8 years were able to succeed in all tasks from the first trial.”

In a different study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers looked at the behavior of wild crows and suggested crows can “reason” about causality.  Researchers stated, “In the first set of events, the crows observed a human enter a hide, a stick move, and the human then leave the hide. In the second, the stick moved without a human entering or exiting the hide. The crows inspected the hide and abandoned probing with a tool for food more often after the second, unexplained series of events. This difference shows that the crows can reason about a hidden causal agent.”

Finally in a third study published this year in the Journal Animal Behavior written by Teresa Iglesias and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, researchers observed scrub jays sounding an alarm when coming upon the body of a dead jay.  More jays would come and screech over the body of the dead jay for up to a half an hour from surrounding trees and fences. What is unusual is that Jays establish breeding pairs that are territorial and not friendly with other jays.  Behavior that involves a large number of jays from multiple pairs is not common.

Researchers stated “The anecdotal report states that other animals, including elephants, chimpanzees and birds in the crow family, react to dead of their species….While reactions of animals to their dead are sometimes called “funerals,” that does not imply that there is an emotional or ritual element to the behavior.  We simply don’t know enough about the emotional life of animals to understand that.  I think there’s a huge possibility that there is much more to learn about the social and emotional lives of birds.”

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, Chapter 6 – Human Uniqueness, there is considerable discussion about animals that have passed the mirror and mark tests exhibiting self awareness.  Self aware animals include human beings, great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, but not gorillas), bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants, and the corvid bird family that includes crows, ravens, magpies, jays, etc.  It is only through further research that we are discovering the heightened intellect represented by these animals in comparison to the human species.

Use the following links for more information:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0040574

http://www.pnas.org/content/109/40/16389.full?sid=2863ef68-cb62-4629-ab02-8c6a623c258b

http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/3859/20120912/western-scrub-jays-hold-funerals-dead.htm

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