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Crows Can Think Rationally, Like Humans

Dec 22, 2014 08:15 AM EST

Crows have long been considered highly intelligent animals, but now new research shows that they're even smarter than we thought and can actually think rationally, just like humans.

"What the crows have done is a phenomenal feat," Ed Wasserman, a University of Iowa psychology professor and corresponding author of the study, said in a statement. "That's the marvel of the results. It's been done before with apes and monkeys, but now we're dealing with a bird; but not just any bird, a bird with a brain as special to birds as the brain of an apes is special to mammals."

So these bird brains not only use tools and communicate in sophisticated way, but they also demonstrate the intelligence to solve higher-order, relational-matching tasks - and they can do so spontaneously.

As described in the journal Current Biology, two hooded crows were trained to identify items by color, shape and number of single samples. Putting their skills to the test, the birds were placed in a cage containing three small cups. Each cup was covered with a card, pictured with a color, shape, or number of items.

The crows were tested to see whether they could pair the sample card with its match (one cup matched the sample while the other did not). By picking the correct card, they were rewarded with food.

However, once the crows mastered this phase of the experiment, they moved onto another in which neither test pairs precisely matched the sample pair. For example, the birds might have to choose two same-sized circles rather than two different-sized circles when the sample card displayed two same-sized squares.

What the researchers found was astonishing: the crows could not only correctly perform the relational matches, but they did so spontaneously, without any prior training.

"Analogical reasoning, matching relations to relations, has been considered to be among the more so-called 'higher order' abstract reasoning processes," said Anthony Wright, a neurobiology and anatomy professor at the University of Texas-Houston, who was not involved in the study. "For decades such reasoning has been thought to be limited to humans and some great apes."

But now, the research team has shown that these birds have brains that are a lot smarter than we originally thought.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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