How Smart Are Crows Compared To Humans – Crows remember faces they associate with stressful situations for up to five years. And they tell their friends. Flickr/monkeyc.net
Crows can remember human faces associated with stressful situations for up to five years and will also warn their friends, a study has found.
How Smart Are Crows Compared To Humans
Crows are known for their extraordinary wisdom and have been observed making tools to dig food out of tight spaces.
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Now a five-year study by scientists at the University of Washington has found that they have an unusually good memory for human faces associated with a stressful event.
The researchers wore a caveman mask before capturing, bandaging, and releasing wild ravens at five sites on or near their campus in Seattle, Washington.
They then observed how the crows reacted when someone wearing the caveman mask approached them and compared it to the reaction elicited by a control mask – in this case, a mask depicting the face of former US Vice President Dick Cheney.
While the Cheney mask drew a muted response, the caveman mask elicited rounds of screams and fury, not only from the birds previously captured, but also from the crows who had witnessed the initial capture.
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At one of the five sites, 20% of the crows reacted angrily to the caveman’s face shortly after capture. After five years, the proportion of crows that responded to the caveman face was recorded at 60%, indicating that word had spread among the flock that it was a dangerous face.
“Independent reprimanding of young crows, whose parents had them reprimand the dangerous mask, demonstrates vertical social learning. Crows who directly experienced capture later discriminated between dangerous and neutral masks more accurately than crows who learned through social means,” says the paper, published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
“People have suspected for a long time that crows are very smart and have very good memories. And they definitely recognize people,” said Dr. Stephen DeVos, an ornithologist and honorary research associate in zoology at the University of New England.
“They hide food and come back and find it later, they can make tools like hooks and spikes to catch food or dig. They are very adaptable.”
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Dr DeVos, who was not involved in the research, said birds such as crows and cockatoos have highly developed brain capacity and methods of communicating with each other.
One of the scientists involved in the University of Washington study, John Marzloff, was quoted as saying that the US military had previously approached him about training crows to find al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who was killed earlier this year.
“They have long-term memory, very sharp discrimination abilities, and if a group of crows knew Bin Laden as an enemy, they would definitely note his presence the next time they saw him,” said Professor Merzloff.
Write an article and join a growing community of more than 166,800 academics and researchers from 4,661 institutions. Crows are among the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. They are able to make rule-based decisions and create and use tools. They also seem to show an innate sense of what they are telling. Researchers now report that these intelligent birds are able to understand recursion—the process of embedding structures in other, similar structures—which has long been considered a uniquely human ability.
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Recursion is a central feature of the language. It allows us to build complex sentences from simple sentences. Take the sentence “The mouse that the cat chased ran.” Here the clause “the cat chased” is enclosed within the clause “the mouse ran”. For decades, psychologists thought that recursion was a human-only trait. Some saw this as the central characteristic that distinguishes human language from other forms of communication between animals. But questions about that assumption persisted. “There has always been an interest in whether or not non-human animals can also perceive recursive sequences,” says Diana Liu, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Andreas Nieder, a professor of animal physiology at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
In a study of monkeys and human adults and children published in 2020, a group of researchers reported that the ability to produce recursive sequences may not actually be unique to our species. Both humans and monkeys were shown a display with two pairs of bracket symbols that appeared in random order. Subjects were trained to touch them in the order of a “centered” recursive sequence such as or ( ). After giving the correct answer, the humans received verbal feedback, and the monkeys were given a small amount of food or juice as a reward. The researchers then presented their subjects with an entirely new set of brackets and saw how often they arranged them recursively. Two of the three monkeys in the experiment produced recursive sequences more frequently than non-recursive sequences such as ), although they needed additional training to do so. One of the animals produced recursive sequences in about half of the trials. Three- to four-year-olds, by comparison, produced recursive sequences on about 40 percent of trials.
This paper prompted Leo and her colleagues to investigate whether ravens, with their famous cognitive skills, might be capable of recursion as well. Adapting the protocol used in the 2020 paper, the team trained two crows to peck pairs of brackets in a recursive sequence embedded in the center. The researchers then tested the birds’ ability to spontaneously generate such recursive sequences on a new set of symbols. The crows also appeared equally to the children. The birds produced the recursive sequences in around 40 percent of the trials—but without the extra training the monkeys required. The results were published today
The discovery that crows can grasp centrally embedded structures and that they are better at doing so than monkeys is “fascinating,” says Giorgio Vallettigra, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Trento in Italy, who was not involved in the work. The findings raise the question of why non-human animals might use this ability, he adds. “They don’t seem to have anything similar to human language, so the recursion is perhaps relevant to other cognitive functions,” he says. One speculation is that animals may use recursion to represent relationships within their social groups.
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When the 2020 study on recursive abilities in humans and monkeys was published, some experts remained unconvinced that the monkeys understood recursion. Instead, some have argued, the animals selected the recursive sequences by learning the order in which the brackets were presented. For example, if the training sequence was [ ( ) ], and the monkeys were later presented with a different pairing, such as ( ) and , they would first choose a bracket they recognized from training, and then choose the new pair of brackets they had never seen. before. Finally, they would choose the matching bracket from training at the end of the sequence (because they had learned that the matching bracket comes at the end).
To address this limitation, Liu and her colleagues expanded the sequences from two pairs to three pairs – such as . With three pairs of symbols, the probability of generating the sequences without grasping the basic idea of recursion becomes much lower, Liu says. Here, too, the researchers found that the birds were most likely to choose responses embedded in the center.
Some scientists remain skeptical. Arnaud Ray, a senior researcher in psychology at the French National Center for Scientific Research, says the findings can still be interpreted from a simple associative perspective – where an animal learns to associate one symbol with another, such as connecting an open bracket. with one closed. A key reason, he explains, lies in a feature of the study design: the researchers placed a boundary around the closed brackets in their sets—which the authors note was needed to help the animals define the order of the brackets. (The same boundary layout was used in the 2020 study.) For Ray, this is a crucial limitation of the study because the animals could perceive that bounded symbols—which would always end near the end of a recursive sequence—were the ones being rewarded, thereby helping them simply learn the order in which open and closed brackets were presented.
Inrei’s view, the idea of ”recursive processing” as a unique form of cognition is itself flawed. Even in humans, he says, this ability can likely be explained simply by associative learning mechanisms—which is something he and his colleagues suggested in a 2012 study of baboons—and to date there have been no satisfactory explanations for how the ability to recognize and manipulate such sequences would be encoded in the human brain. According to Ray, researchers are currently divided into two camps: one who believes that human language is built on unique abilities such as the ability to understand recursion, and another who believes that it was created from much simpler processes such as associative learning.
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But Leo points out that even with the help of the borders, the ravens still had to understand the order embedded in the center where open and closed brackets were paired from outside to inside. In other words, if the birds only learned this opening.
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