Do ravens have a Theory of Mind?Amy Walsh (Author) Published Date : Feb 03, 2016 22:34 IST
Ravens are capable of paranoia, even when the threat is not visible, just like humans.
Recent studies purported to demonstrate that chimpanzees, monkeys and corvids possess a basic Theory of Mind, the ability to attribute mental states like seeing to others. However, these studies remain controversial because they share a common confound; the conspecific s line of gaze, which could serve as an associative cue.
Now a new study has revealed that ravens do indeed spy on each other, and know when they are being watched. A group of scientists published their findings in the journal Nature Communications, revealing how impressive ravens cognitive abilities are.
Specifically, it was found that ravens guard their caches against discovery in response to the sounds of conspecifics when a peephole is open but not when it is closed. Our results suggest that ravens can generalize from their own perceptual experience to infer the possibility of being seen. These findings confirm and unite previous work, providing strong evidence that ravens are more than mere behaviour-readers.
Knowing what others see would provide animals with an advantage when competing for food, for it would allow them to predict which items might become the subject of disputes. In line with this ecologically based assumption, behavioural experiments manipulating the visibility of food in face-to-face competition tasks have revealed that non-human primates and corvids react to what conspecifics can and cannot see.
Many researchers have thus concluded that these animals possess an understanding of perception-goal psychology a basic Theory of Mind . However, because in most of these experiments successful performance can be achieved by tracking correlations between head cues and a competitor s behaviour, skeptics have concluded that all these experiments suffer from a logical problem that renders them unable to empirically distinguish representations of directly observable cues from a genuine representation of seeing .
However, the scientists found that as well as spying on each other, ravens use tricks to deceive other birds and throw them off track. this behavior suggests that they know they re being watched, and they know other ravens want to steal their food. But the major question is whether they know what others are thinking, or whether they are reacting to physical stimuli.
We need to keep trying to fill in that story about human development, says study author Dr Cameron Buckner, a philosopher at the University of Houston. Studying animals and evaluating their Theory of Mind helps us realize how we are different.
Another practical application of the research is the study of cognitive development, especially in disorders such as autism, and can help us work out why we are special. At the same time we have certain things in common with animals such as ravens, including high-maintenance relationships.
Ravens are able to negotiate two distinct phases of life thanks to their complex social cognition. They grow up in a hierarchical group with similarities to human high school, before settling down into long-term breeding pairs.
Do ravens have a Theory of Mind?