Seventeenth century philosophers, such as Rene Descartes, hypothesized that animals are ‘non-sentient’ beings, that is, organisms that do not have the ability to reason. Until recent years, this belief has been widely accepted. Now studies have begun to show that animals are a great deal more intelligent and developmentally advanced than scientists had previously realized.
An experiment conducted by a collaboration of scientists from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, the University of Cambridge, UK and the University of Vienna, Austria, showed that crows are more likely to forage when they discovered that humans were the cause of a change in their environment.
In the experiment, a hidden human poked the crow’s physical environment with a stick. When the crows did not witness the human leave the hiding area after disrupting its environment, the crows were much more hesitant to forage, in suspicion that the action would be repeated. They reacted to the situation as humans would.
According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this behavior proves that crows have “complex cognition.”
The implications of this study are far-reaching and extremely important. Previously, humans have held the belief that they are on a completely separate cognitive plane than animals. This study does not only answer questions, but it raises some. Are crows the only animal with reasoning skills, or would other species respond similarly if the experiment were conducted on them? What is the extent of these newfound cognitive skills? Only further research will provide the answers, and the scientists that conducted the foraging crow study have no plans to throw in the towel yet.
Now our challenge will be to change how we view animal intelligence. Inch by inch, the line that humans have drawn between themselves and animals is being erased. We’re not so different, after all.
Buchanan, Pete. "Crows can 'reason' about causes, a recent study finds." A Comparative Mind. N.p., 08 Sep 2012. Web. 23 Sep 2012. <http://comparativemind.blogspot.com/2012/09/crows-can-reason-about-causes-recent.html>.
McDermott, Mat. "Crows Can Reason About Cause and Effect." Treehugger. N.p., 18 Sep 2012. Web. 23 Sep 2012. <http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/crows-can-reason-about-cause-and-effect.html>.
Taylor, Alex, perf. New Caledonian crows reason about hidden humans. Youtube, 2012. Web. 23 Sep 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnqUAsyOTv4>.