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Ravens Understand That Others Have Minds

Update Date: Feb 04, 2016 11:40 AM EST

Humans understand as well as appreciate that others have minds of their own so that they can arrive at assumptions based on the information. But in a new study by researchers at the University of Houston, it has been suggested that even ravens have some of the human ability to understand the minds of others, and adapt their behaviour accordingly.

Traditionally thought to be intelligent birds, ravens have been chosen for the study due to the manner in which they seem similar to humans, and also show more caution with their storehouse of food in the company of rival ravens.

"There is a time when who is in the pack, who's a friend, who's an enemy can change very rapidly," Cameron Buckner, co-author of the study, said in a press release. "There are not many other species that demonstrate as much social flexibility. Ravens cooperate well. They can compete well. They maintain long-term, monogamous relationships. This all makes them a good place to look for social cognition because similar social pressures might have driven the evolution of similarly advanced cognitive capacities in very different species."

Two rooms were linked through windows and peepholes. Before the experiment, the ravens were trained to peep through the linking holes and watch human experimenters making some food banks in the adjoining room.

After the start of the experiment, the team covered both windows but left a peephole open. They also switched on a secret speaker playing out the sounds of a rival raven, even though none was present. Still, the ravens collected food as if they were being watched.

"We show that ravens ... can generalize from their own experience using the peephole as a pilferer and predict that audible competitors could potentially see their caches (through the peephole)," the study reads. "Consequently, we argue that they represent 'seeing' in a way that cannot be reduced to the tracking of gaze cues."

The study was published in Feb. 2,2016 issue of Nature Communications.

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