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Crows Complete Basic Aesop's Fable Task 87

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-so-science dept.
jones_supa writes: "New Caledonian crows — already known to be smart — may also understand how to displace water to receive a reward, with the causal understanding level of a 5-7 year-old child, according to results published in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Sarah Jelbert from University of Auckland and colleagues. As demonstrated in the included video, 'Scientists used the Aesop's fable riddle — in which subjects drop stones into water to raise the water level and obtain an out-of reach-reward — to assess New Caledonian crows' causal understanding of water displacement. ... Crows completed 4 of 6 water displacement tasks, including preferentially dropping stones into a water-filled tube instead of a sand-filled tube, dropping sinking objects rather than floating objects, using solid objects rather than hollow objects, and dropping objects into a tube with a high water level rather than a low one. However, they failed two more challenging tasks, one that required understanding of the width of the tube, and one that required understanding of counterintuitive cues for a U-shaped displacement task.' The authors note that these tasks did not test insightful problem solving, but were directed at the birds' understanding of volume displacement."
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Crows Complete Basic Aesop's Fable Task

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  • The fact that the average crow can means they're likely a lot smarter than even these researchers give them credit for.
    • ...or they will quickly learn to stone you?
  • by Chris Parsons (3398385) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @02:04PM (#46610515)
    before crows figure out how to use youtube. Next step world domination.
    • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @03:37PM (#46610927)

      Actually they've already done so:
      Step 1: Selectively breed some apes to create sprawling metropolises chock full of delicious garbage.
      Step 2: Profit!

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      before crows figure out how to use youtube

      They already have - there are plenty of crow videos on YouTube. Instead of learning how to use a camera and YouTube, they've trained ape-descendents to do all the hard work for them.

      I'm sure you can find a video of these crows doing their tests on YouTube.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This explains why I've always preferred the company of crows, jackdaws and magpies over that of human beings.

  • Experiment yourself (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I put out random old food I'd otherwise throw away for the crows (and an occasional opossum that takes what they leave behind). They are interesting to watch. They will take hard dried food like pretzels and old bread and drop them in a puddle or the bird batch to soften them up. They also take food fly away and hide it and come back for more. Another interesting thing is how they interact with a Hawks. Occasionally a hawk will land and investigate the food or the commotion. The crows initially back o

    • by dryeo (100693)

      Ravens are known for stashing food in caches including faking the cache and stealing other ravens stashes. They show quite some smarts in doing it and remembering as well.
      What has always amazed me is how much intelligence can be crammed into that bird brain that is smaller then a walnut.

      • Could it be an issue of brain size to body mass instead of brain size alone?

        • by mikael (484)

          Brain size is larger than the theoretical size given the body mass. But most of the brain is used to manage body function with only a small area doing the actual logical thinking and planning. That's larger that the theoretical size. So they must have some logic there to handle the concepts of tubes, tunnels, sticks, pebbles. Given that they feed on insects and just about anything else that lives in trees, they'd have evolved to figure out out to get them out of holes in trees.

          • by dryeo (100693)

            Crows (and Ravens) don't spend much time in trees looking for food, mostly nuts and they use cars to break the shell, showing understanding of the intersection rules, safe on red. They are omnivores and seem to eat anything. They've also adapted very well to city life and love McDonalds so not that smart.

      • by Agent0013 (828350)
        Their memory of human faces is pretty amazing also. If a scientist or other person takes baby crows from a nest, the other crows nearby will squawk like crazy at them. If those same crows see that person again they will scream like crazy again and any new crows around will learn this humans face also and squawk any time they see them. It can get so bad that no matter where you go a crow will recognize you and start harassing you.
  • these tasks did not test insightful problem solving, but were directed at the birds' understanding of volume displacement

    Crows don't "understand" water displacement. They only sense and react. "understanding" requires abstraction.

    This is great research so I don't want to seem hypercritical but in their contextualization of the mental processes of the Crow they are projecting what ***humans*** would be thinking when they solve the problem.

    Crows see cause/effect. Drop stone, thing gets closer. They sense t

    • Crows don't "understand" water displacement.

      How do you know they don't?

      Crows see cause/effect.

      Why did any of the crows drop a stone into the water in the first place? Why did they go for water over sand?

      On the other side of the argument, what did their "brief training period" comprise?

      The problem here is that we're working with four paragraphs. That's precious little to come up with any definitive statement - let alone ones which contradict the - by their own admission, cautious (the article is peppered with "may"s)- conclusion of the study.

      • How do you know they don't?

        I dont have the burden of proof, b/c it's not my research. The scientists are claiming they **DO**...that means the definition and concept of "understanding" certainly comes into play.

        Why did any of the crows drop a stone into the water in the first place? Why did they go for water over sand?

        They had free choice to drop in any of them. They dropped stones in multiple containters.

        When they dropped and saw they thing get closer they repeated!

        It's simple cause/effect and memory...why

        • I dont have the burden of proof, b/c it's not my research.

          I'm not saying you wouldn't be correct to assume that they don't have the understanding until it's proven otherwise - which this study is by no means definitively claiming to have done - but you said "Crows don't "understand" water displacement," which sounds like a definitive statement of fact.

          The scientists are claiming they **DO**

          Nope. They're only claiming that they may.

          It's simple cause/effect and memory...why is this a controversial statement?

          What evidence is there that it's any truer than the alternative? The scientists who've spent time and effort investigating certainly seem to believe there's room for doubt, i

        • by dryeo (100693) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @03:50PM (#46611035)

          There are better studies that show crows having understanding. Things like using a short tool to get a medium tool to get the long tool to reach the unreachable. Fashioning the correct tool from a piece of wire. Or in one case studying the situation for close to 2 minutes before flawlessly completing all the steps required to reach the unreachable, without any training.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org]

          • is it complex innate behavior that evolved or "understanding"?

            what is the difference?

            Look at the elaborate nests of the Bowerbird: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.... [nationalgeographic.com]

            Does that bird "understand" structural physics & bird mating behavior and "choose" based on its "understanding"?

            No. According to this study: http://www.sciencedirect.com/s... [sciencedirect.com]

            That study and many like it examine **instinct** as the mechanism for this behavior...they do not **in any way** examine bird behavior in terms of "understanding"

            So until

            • by dryeo (100693)

              is it complex innate behavior that evolved or "understanding"?

              what is the difference?

              Understanding takes some thought whereas instinctive evolved behaviour does not take thought. The Bowerbird builds an elaborate nest because it feels right and it is easy to understand how that may have evolved, females that are attracted to elaborate nests and males that though small mutations and genetic recombining that make more elaborate nests having more breeding success.
              Needing to get something out of reach and having to improvise by bending a wire or studying a situation until understanding a series

              • Understanding takes some thought whereas instinctive evolved behaviour does not take thought.

                That's a tautology.

                **NOW** everything hinges on your definition of "thought"

                What is "thought" in your nomenclature?

                How does "thought" differ from "understanding"?

                Are you the first one to make this distinction?

                I don't want/expect an actual answer. I'm asking to point out the ridiculousness of the statement.

                Still waiting for some actual discussion.

    • Crows see cause/effect. Drop stone, thing gets closer. They sense that the thing is closer so just repeat what they did.

      What makes you believe that your own "abstract reasoning" actually operates any differently?

      • by cusco (717999)

        I think his mindset is called 'human chauvinism', humans are special, the only thinking species. Insight and conscious thought separates us from the beasts. According to that world view all non-human animals, generally including primates, operate exclusively by instinct and have no deeper insight into the world around them. It used to be popular among academics in the early and mid-20th century, but as more people with real-world experience (such as people who had grown up as farmers or breeders rather t

    • by cwsumner (1303261)

      ... Crows don't "understand" water displacement. They only sense and react. "understanding" requires abstraction.

      This is great research so I don't want to seem hypercritical but in their contextualization of the mental processes of the Crow they are projecting what ***humans*** would be thinking when they solve the problem.

      Crows see cause/effect. Drop stone, thing gets closer. They sense that the thing is closer so just repeat what they did. ...

      That might be true, but it also could describe most people, incuding the scientists !

  • Reminds me somewhat of this [www.josh.is] project, which trains crows to trade objects (coins, in this implementation) for food. I've been meaning to build something similar at some point. :-)

    I haven't decided what to get them to do for the food. Cash isn't used much here, so they'll have a hard time finding quarters. I was thinking pop or beer bottle lids, or something similar to that, would be good. That way they trade an abundant trash source for food, and clean up at the same time.

    Though I suppose it could lead to th

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      I wish I could remember more details, but there was actually a project a while back that did just that: IIRC they put out a "vending machine" that traded peanuts I think it was for trash, and trained a couple crows to use it - before long they had much of the local crow population happily cleaning up the grounds for peanuts.

    • "I think ravens are supposed to be even more intelligent?"

      Nevermore.

  • ...but it's too orangey for crows.

  • There is no evidence of "understanding". They simply learned a behavior.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      It would admittedly depend on just how much training was done beforehand, but the examples with cylinders of different diameters or water levels would suggest at least a rudimentary understanding of the principles in play. As would the discarding of light and hollow objects when selecting what to drop into the water.

    • The article is four paragraphs long, with an un-narrated video. That's hardly enough on which to base your conclusion.

      And the experimenters themselves have only gone as far as to say these results "may" be in favour of the alternative.

  • heavy objects sink in water

    I will say an aircraft carrier is very heavy - but floats on water, what the authors meant to say was Dense objects sink in water, as even light grains of sand sink to the bottom.
    You can thank the college of Phycology for the misunderstanding - when you read something like that in the first paragraph of the paper, makes me doubt anything else they have to say.

    • Let's get duelling with pedantary!

      Blah blah dense blah.

      However, there were only a limited range of sizes available: too big and it wouldn't fit in the tube, too small and it would be useless because not enough fluid would be displaced to make a difference.

      Given the small size range, heavy/light works perfectly well.

      Plus it's common language and *everyone* knows what was meant.

  • I remember in grad school, there was a crow that was often on a branch above the path to the computer science building. After walking past it, he would fly down next to me and screech loudly right when he was next to me, then circle back and cackle after landing on his branch. He apparently enjoyed the reactions he got by startling people.

    Birds are very smart. Another reason to be afraid of dinosaurs, I suppose.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by SternisheFan (2529412)
      On a morning when the Nazis had a mass killing of concentration camp victims, Goring remarked on the mass gathering of crows and other birds, amassed along wires and roofs. There were tens of thousands of the birds assembled, but only on the days when many people were to be exterminated, and this unsettled Goring. Perhaps there is more to our avian and animal friends than meets the eye?
      • Indeed, causation requires correlation. Clearly they were the ones pulling the strings.

        Plausible deniability does not eliminate undeniable plausibility.

        • The crows were not CAUSING the Nazi behaviour, but apparently they learned the schedules or otherwise picked up a clue as to when food was about to be on the table and when it wasn't. Speaking of food on the table, crows live near where we like to eat lunch outside, When they see usm they send once crow over to watch. If we leave the food unattended the one spy crow gets the rest and they eat it and throw our stuff around.
          • That would easily explain it, the bodies were always dumped into pits left open for days or longer. Lots of available 'food' left out for the taking. (shudder!)
    • Birds are very smart. Another reason to be afraid of dinosaurs, I suppose.

      As a programmer, I always remember that Velociraptors dislike goto [xkcd.com] statements.

  • welcome our new crow overlords
  • The crow shrieked "Corn! Corn! Corn!" until the researcher, one J. Snow, Wall Cmdr, tossed some corn its way.

  • but not THAT smart!

    I always knew they could count to three. However other birds may be better at counting.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B... [wikipedia.org]

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