General, Research, Technology

The mental abilities of crows turned out to be much higher than previously thought

It turned out that crows have their own version of the bark.brain, so it's no surprise that they are getting smarter and smarter. The results of a new study show that these birds not only think about what they just saw, but also associate it with a corresponding reaction. The cerebral cortex in representatives of corvids is literally packed with neurons - their number is many times greater than the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of great apes. Corvids - a "family of ravens" birds, which also include ravens, jays, magpies, rooks, jackdaws, etc. - are smart. They use tools, recognize faces, leave gifts for people they like. Corvids also throw stones into the water to push floating food through. Previously, it was believed that only humans and, possibly, some other mammals possess this level of self-awareness.

New research shows that crows are as adept as humans at planning for the future.

The smartest birds

A study published in the journal Science says that crows are able to think of their own thoughts when they solve problems. For a long time it was believed that the highestintellectual functioning is the product of complete neurons in the cerebral cortex. But bird brains are another matter. The authors found that a cerebral cortex packed with neurons could play a similar role in birds. In support of this possibility, the authors of another study, published in the journal Science, show that the neuroanatomy of pigeons and barn owls is also capable of supporting higher intelligence.

We have previously written about amazing abilitiessome corvids. They have the same mental abilities as humans and some great apes. However, birds' neurons are so small that their cerebral cortex contains more neurons than would be found in the cerebral cortex of a primate of the same size. This is a factor perhaps is the key to understanding corvids' vast mental abilities.

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The kind of higher intelligence of crows,demonstrated in the new study is similar to how we solve problems. We catalog the relevant knowledge and then explore various combinations of what we know to arrive at an action or solution. Researchers led by neuroscientist Andreas Nieder of the University of Tübingen in Germany trained two ravens, Ozzy and Glen.

Ozzy and Glen in person

Ravens have been trained to watch the flash of lightwhich did not always appear, and then peck at a red or blue target to determine if a flash of light was noticed. Ozzie and Glenn were also taught to understand the changing key rules that determined whether red or blue meant there was a flash, and another color meant no flash. In each round of the test, after the flash appeared or did not appear, the crows were presented with key rules describing the current value of the red and blue targets, after which they pecked their answer.

This sequence prevented the birds from simplyrehearse your answer on autopilot, so to speak. In each test, they had to look at the entire process from above, seeing a flash or no flash, and then figure out which target to peck.

Interesting: Crows are as intelligent as chimpanzees

While all this was happening, the researchers observedbehind their neural activity. When Ozzie or Glenn saw the flash, sensory neurons fired and then stopped when the birds determined which target to peck. When there was no flash, no sensory neuron firing was observed before the crow stopped to determine the correct target.

The authors of the study do not hide their surprise at the mental abilities of these birds.

The study authors interpret this sequence as follows:

Ozzy or Glenn had to see or not seea flash, consciously noting that the flash was or was not - demonstrating self-awareness of what was just experienced - and then, moments later, linking that memory with all learned knowledge of the established key rule before pecking at the correct target.

During the experiment for a few secondsafter the activity of sensory neurons subsided, scientists reported activity among a large population of neurons, in those moments when birds collected all the "pieces of memory" in preparation for reporting what they saw. Among the occupied areas in the raven's brain during this phase of the sequence was, unsurprisingly, the cerebral cortex.

The researchers, however, note that theresults can be interpreted in different ways. Perhaps crows may not think about the future at all, they may instead simply choose the object that most associates with food. Future experiments should be able to pinpoint exactly how smart the crows are, but at the most basic level, the results so far indicate that humans may not be as special as we used to think.