(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers have found that crows can think through their own thoughts, displaying intelligence and analytical thinking previously thought to be exclusive to humans and a few other highly developed mammals.
Ravens are known for their intelligence and wide-ranging abilities, such as using tools, recognizing individuals, and even recursion. Now research has shown that they can also analyze their own thoughts.
Neuroscientist Andreas Nieder of the University of Tübingen in Germany and colleagues trained two crows, Glenn and Ozzy, to select a red or blue target based on whether they saw a brief flash of light.
Nieder often changed the “rule” for determining the correct target, when the birds were told what color meant what, only after they saw the flash.
This meant that the crows had to constantly evaluate their own flash memory and make a quick decision.
This, in turn, required the birds to actively reflect on their own perceptions and demonstrate their ability to remember and respond.
During the tasks, the researchers tracked the activity of hundreds of neurons in the brains of crows (in which scientists counted up to 1.5 billion neurons, which is found in some species of monkeys).
When the crows indicated they had seen a flash, their sensory neurons fired between the flash and the beak response.
If they did not perceive the flash, the neurons remained inactive, and the bird pecked “No, I did not see anything.” The brain activity of the birds varied depending on their perception of the dim flash.
During the delay, many neurons responded by expecting a message from the crows rather than the intensity of the burst.
“The population of neurons contained information about the subjective experience of the crows throughout the trial,” the scientists explained.
The birds accurately reported their subjective perception of the flash, or lack of it, based on the activity of their sensory neurons, Nieder said.
“I think this strongly demonstrates that crows and probably other advanced birds have sensory perception in the sense that they have certain subjective experiences that they can convey,” he said.
“Apart from crows, this kind of neurobiological evidence for sensory consciousness exists only in humans and macaques.”
Despite excellent results, more research is needed to fully understand the extent of crows’ cognitive abilities.
However, these results suggest that birds may have a more sophisticated understanding of their own thoughts and abilities than previously thought.
The results of this study go beyond our understanding of crows and birds. It raises questions about the evolution of cognitive abilities and the possibility for animals to have higher-level thinking skills.
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