I clearly remember being at the state fair as a young child and coming face-to-face with a tic-tac-toe playing chicken. My father fronted the quarter (or however much it cost) to have me, a free-willed 9-year-old boy, test my wits against a chicken. I felt a deep reluctance, not simply because the action seemed extremely odd, but because I wondered: What if this chicken turned out to be smarter than me? How would I ever live this one down?
Well, I happened to beat the tic-tac-toe playing chicken (two out of three, if I remember correctly) and had my fears put to rest — but this may have just been because I was nine years old, and not four or younger. News from the UK states that average barnyard hens are more than capable of beating the average toddler in challenges involving mathematical reasoning and logic, including numeracy, self-control and even basic structural engineering.
“The domesticated chicken is something of a phenomenon,” claimed Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University, and she went on to say, “”Studies over the past 20 years have revealed their finely honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead.” In Nicol’s research she also found that hens have an understanding of physics, along with the ability to plan ahead and exhibit self-control, with 93% of hens understanding that if they waited longer to start eating food, they would be allowed access to it for longer. Most toddlers can barely grasp the concept of delaying gratification.
But to be fair, toddlers than make enormous developmental leaps (as they had during infancy) and grow to easily outsmart and surpass even the most accomplished chicken, whereas chickens just become someone’s dinner, or simply continue to peck at the ground. That said, should information like this provide us with a more evolved view and appreciation of hens and the like? Should it be an embarrassment to our striving toddlers? On the developmental spectrum, does it even matter?