Scientists offer a new layer to the cognitive complexity of crows | Smart News

Previous research has shown that crows can make tools and recognize faces.
Getty Images

Time and time again, it seems, research finds crows performing a cognitive task that defies our expectations. Now, a new paper claims birds can understand a certain type of pattern, displaying an ability scientists once thought was unique to humans.

The researchers tested whether Ravens could grasp the concept of recursion, which they define as “the process of integrating structures into similar structures” in their paper published in November in Scientists progress.

Humans use recursion in language when we embed one clause into another to form a complex sentence, written American Scientistit is Diana Kwon. For example, if a human says, “The ball hit by the bat flew”, he has nested the clause “the bat hit” in “the ball flew”.

Scientists have long debated whether understanding these patterns is unique to humans. “There has always been an interest in whether or not non-human animals can also enter recursive sequences,” Diana Liaothe lead author of the study who studies bird cognition at the University of Tübingen in Germany, says American Scientist. In the early 2000s, linguists hypothesized that human language is the only form of animal communication that uses recursion, according to the the wall street journalit is Dominique Mosbergen.

However, in a 2020 study also published in Scientists progressresearchers have proposed that rhesus macaque monkeys could also create recursive sequences. The monkeys behaved at the level of human children aged three to five who had been given the same task of creating sequences, but they needed more training to do it, according to the the wall street journal.

In the new study, the researchers performed a similar experiment on two crows. They trained the birds to peck sets of brackets, such as { } and [ ]in a recursive pattern, for example, { [ ] }. During training, crows were given bird seed pellets or mealworms to successfully form recursive sequences, depending on the the wall street journal.

Then, when presented with pairs of parentheses they had never seen before, such as ( [ ] ) – crows correctly formed embedded structures about 40% of the time. They had a similar success rate to children and performed better than the monkeys in the 2020 study, according to the the wall street journal. They also didn’t need the extra training the monkeys received.

Although the study only used two crows, that doesn’t necessarily mean the results aren’t remarkable. “It’s a small sample, which means you can’t make generalizations about crow populations, but that wasn’t the point,” said Stephen Ferrigno, a cognitive scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-author of the 2020 Monkey study but was not involved in the new paper, tells the the wall street journal. “All you need is one example that crows can do it.”

Some other researchers are not convinced by the study’s findings. Noam Chomsky, one of the linguists who first suggested that recursion is unique to human communication, says the wall street journal he is not convinced that either study demonstrates that non-humans understand recursion.

After all, the birds may have learned to peck at the shapes in the correct order without actually grasping the concept of nesting supports. Arnaud Rey, psychologist at the CNRS, tells American Scientist that the results could be interpreted as the birds simply learning to link one parenthesis to the next, instead of embedding one pair within another.

Either way, the paper isn’t the first to suggest crows might be more cognitively complex than we assume. Other research has shown that crows can make tools and store them for future use. Birds can also recognize their own faces (and remember human faces), writes Ha’aretzit is Ruth Schuster.

“For me, that [study] adds to the catalog of startling data showing that birds have been completely misunderstood,” says Mathias Osvath, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden who did not contribute to the new research. American Scientist. “To say that mammals took over the world cognitively is simply wrong.”

Sharon D. Cole