A recent study suggests that ravens possess the stunning ability to read each other's minds - here's how they do it.
Ravens are known for their sharp wit and cleverness among their avian peers, but a recent study reveals just how capable their brains really are. According to a report from CS Monitor, scientists have shown that ravens may be able to tell when other birds are looking them at, suggesting that they have the ability to interpret each other’s thoughts and emotional states.
Ravens have been famous for thousands of years in folk tales ranging from Ancient Greece to pre-Columbus North America for their tricky nature. The recent study confirms that the birds do, in deed, spy on each other, and can even sense when they are being spied on themselves.
The study was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, and reveals just how human-like ravens’ behavior can be. One of the study’s co-authors, philosopher Cameron Buckner from the University of Houston, asks, “What really is the feature that’s unique and special about human cognition?”
The answer could be thought of as what is laid out in the “Theory of Mind,” which describes a human’s ability to empathize with another individual, to imagine what may be going on in their head, to see the world through another person’s eyes.
The new study provides evidence that ravens have a basic Theory of Mind too. Scientists exploited ravens’ willingness to eat nearly anything to determine just how they saw each other.
Scientists observed ravens eating their fill of one of their favorite foods, carrion. Once they had had enough, the birds were observed packing tiny bits into pouches in their throats and hiding it in secret locations for later. Ravens were seen spying on each other to keep tabs on where food was hidden, making their advance as soon as the stash was seen unguarded.
The ravens that stashed food away were not fooled, however. Dominant birds were observed using a number of different tricks to throw off scavengers, including digging as fast as possible or hiding out of view from other birds. The ravens deliberately avoided their stash spots, so as not to draw attention to where their hidden food supplies might be. Others dug decoy holes to throw hungry competitors off the scent.
Scientists tested whether ravens had Theory of Mind by placing a wall with a small peephole between two groups of birds. They watched how the birds tried to hid their food stashes with a window in the wall first open and then closed.
When the ravens knew they were being observed by the birds on the other side of the wall, they hid their food much more carefully. Even when only a peephole connected the two rooms, ravens successfully guessed that the other birds were waiting on the opposite side, trying to get a taste of their food.
While the study in no way equates raven intelligence with human cognitive ability, it offers a fascinating look into how the birds perceive and interact with one another.
A press release from the University of Vienna describing the details of the recent study can be found here.