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Smart Birds: Cute Baby Ducklings Can Process Abstract Thoughts Like Humans Do

Jul 15, 2016 06:34 AM EDT
A recent study has discovered that newborn ducklings can process abstract thoughts without the help of training from parents and other external forces. The study disproves John Locke's statement that abstract reasoning separates human beings to all other animals.
(Photo : Unsplash/Pixabay)

They're not just cute; baby ducks are smart too! Researchers recently discovered that newly hatched ducklings could process abstract thoughts as fast as newborn humans.

According to the study published in the journal Science, newborn ducks showed abstract reasoning and can immediately understand various concepts, such as knowing what's "same" and "different." These ducklings were able to apply these to real life without guidance or training from external forces.

Their imprinting ability is also at par with other primates and highly intelligent species.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers studied newborn ducklings and subjected them to different objects. They first showed them pairs of objects of the same or different shape or color, and then different objects. As a result, the ducks followed the objects that have the same color or shape.

“We hatch them, we give them about 12 hours to dry off, and once they able to walk they are able to do this and learn it with great accuracy,” said Antone Martinho, co-author of the study, from the University of Oxford.

Smithsonian notes that this behavior is usually present in monkeys, apes and humans, as well as in parrots and crows. What's more unique is some of these animals could only exhibit this skill after being trained.

Alex Kacelnik, co-author of the study, said this is the first time that a non-human organism has demonstrated the ability to learn abstract relational concepts even without training.

Martinho explains that this innate behavior of ducklings stems from their imprinting ability to identify their mother upon birth. The researchers simply used this ability and applied it to other situations to produce other remarkable behavior.

"We already knew that ducks would be very good at learning quickly because that's what they are built to do. But the fact that, within that behavior, they can learn something abstract was certainly startling. And they do it quite a bit faster than we see in other species," Marinho added.

The recent findings break John Locke's famous statement, "brutes abstract not,” which says that abstract reasoning separates human beings to all other animals.

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