Support us | Visit us | Contact us
24 October 2012Title:An end to insight? New Caledonian crows can spontaneously solve problems without planning their actions Authors:Alex H. Taylor, Brenna Knaebe and Russell D. GrayJournal:Proceedings of the Royal Society B
New Caledonian crows can spontaneously solve problems without planning their actions, a study published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B reveals.
Photo Credit: Sarah Jelbert.
Animals rarely solve problems spontaneously, yet certain bird species are able to rapidly gain access to food hung on the end of a long string, by repeatedly pulling and then stepping on the string. For over 400 years it has been a mystery as to how birds spontaneously solve this problem. Researchers from the University of Auckland found that such problem solving is not created by birds first solving the problem in their heads. Rather, problem solving occurs spontaneously as the bird makes the food on the end of the string move. In the experiment, crows were shown two ropes, each with a piece of meat tied to the far end. One rope was continuously attached to the meat and the other was visibly broken by a 10cm gap, so only the continuous rope would give the reward when pulled. However, crows showed no significant preference for choosing to pull on the continuous rope. “Crows and parrots have long been known to solve the ‘string pulling problem’ immediately. What our new research shows is that these performances are due to the birds being able to react in the moment to the effects of their actions, rather than being able to mentally plan out their actions,” Dr Alex Taylor, lead author on the study explains.“Thus string pulling appears to be based on a different type of intelligence than we had thought. Instead of the crows using sophisticated cognitive software to model the world, it appears their neural hardware is sufficiently well connected and/or specialised for them to react to the effect of their actions immediately. This allows them to solve problems that other bird species cannot. ”
Learn about our mission to expand the frontiers of knowledge.
Explore our annual science exhibition
A paper published in Biology Letters today reveals a new species of ichthyosaur (a dolphin-like marine reptile from the age of dinosaurs) which revolutionises our understanding of their evolution and extinction.
Pioneers of the Internet, computing, climate modelling and virtual surgery are just some of the experts who have been announced as new Fellows of the Royal Society today (3 May 2013).
The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, has announced the appointment of 27 new Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award holders.
For a full archive please see the news pages.
Latest press releases about our activities.
Announcements about articles in our journals.
There are about 1,450 Fellows and Foreign Members.
We have had 350 years at the heart of scientific progress.
Contact the Society's press team.