Ravens Plan for the Future — Just Like Humans

Ravens surprised researchers with something that was thought to be unique to only humans and other great apes: the ability to plan ahead.

Ravens have previously been found to store food to eat later, but it wasn’t considered evidence of planning. Scientists thought they were wired to do it on instinct, so Can Kabadayi and Mathias Osvath from the Department of Cognitive Science at Lund University in Sweden set out to see if they could complete tasks that involved planning ahead.

They set up a series of experiments for five ravens, who were all allowed to participate on a voluntary basis, that involved tasks they might not normally perform in the wild, including using tools and bartering with us. The tests involved seeing whether they could plan ahead for events that were 15 minutes ahead, or as long as 17 hours ahead, and were also designed to see if ravens would use self-control to get a better reward later, instead of giving in to immediate gratification.

The ravens were taught to use a tool to open a box that contained a reward. Once they had that down, they were then offered their choice of a tool, which was placed among “distractor” objects, before they were presented with the box 15 minutes later. They successfully chose the tool and opened the box 86 percent of the time, and similar results were found when the box was presented 17 hours later.

Their findings, which were just published in Science show ravens outperformed chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and even human children, on similar tests.

In other tests, ravens were presented with a token they could use to trade for something better at a later time. In this case, they opted to wait for something better 90 percent of the time.

“To be able to solve tasks like these, one needs a collection of cognitive abilities working in concert, such as inhibitory skills and different forms of memory. That ravens show similar functions, and combine them in ways similar to apes, despite a last common ancestor as far back as 320 million years ago, suggests that evolution likes to re-run good productions,” said Osvath.

Although it should be argued that signs of intelligence on par with our own shouldn’t make any species more or less valuable, the findings here now add to a growing body of research surrounding non-human animal intelligence that will hopefully help grow our appreciation and respect for them.

“One of [our] most interesting results is that intelligence is not restricted to human lineage,” said Kabadayi. “Maybe we should be more humble in looking at ourselves and we should appreciate that there are other ways toward higher cognition.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

203 comments

Melania P
Melania Padilla9 months ago

Besides, they are gorgeous! Thank you for sharing

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Marie W
Marie W10 months ago

Thank you for caring and sharing

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIEabout a year ago

Just because they dont talk our language, they are not stupid.

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Clare R
Clare Rabout a year ago

Very intelligent birds.

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Glennis W
Glennis Wabout a year ago

Just so wonderful Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Wabout a year ago

Love the Ravens they are beautiful Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Wabout a year ago

Just so awesome Thank you for caring and sharing

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oliver mally
oliver mallyabout a year ago

love' em!

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Leo C
Leo Cabout a year ago

Thank you for posting!

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Nicole Heindryckx
Nicole Heindryckxabout a year ago

Naomi Dryer : I continue : We had 3 children. As soon as they got their first pocket money we learned them NOT to spend everything at once, but to put something aside. And also, we gave extra pocket money for doing some extra jobs, they normally did not have to do. It were no big amounts either. They had to learn one has to work to have bread on the platter. Now that they have all children of their own, I have seen them doing the same thing we learned them. And my grandchildren do not spend all their money they sometimes get for anniversaries, or for very good school results. No, they all have a banking account in the meantime, and part of their pocket and owned money goes to this account. Personally I think parents are in a better position to learn them how to plan for the future, than they can in school.

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