Thursday, 19 February 2015

Even Crows Can Put Two And Two Together

Crows are smarter than you think | Iowa Now

One of the major difficulties creationists seem to suffer from, at least in the way they deny evidence and logical argument, is a seeming inability to do basic joined up thinking. I appreciate that many creationist merely feign this inability in the same way they feign ignorance and even difficulty with basic comprehension when presented with unarguable facts.

For example, lead a creationist carefully through the three steps needed for evolution to be inevitable and you can get them to agree every single stage - inheritance of traits, imperfect replication of those traits giving variation and an environment which ensure more of some variations and less of others get to reproduce - and they will feign an inability to join those dots to see that this gives more of some variations in the next generation and fewer of others. And even if they admit that last conclusion, they'll still declare evolution to be impossible and declare it doesn't happen.

Not so crows. Crows have now been shown to be capable of this kind of joined up thinking and recognise analogous situations, without having been initially trained to look for analogous patterns - technically called 'relational matching-to-sample' or (RMTS). Train a crow to do simple 'identity matching-to-sample' (IMTS) and they will spontaneously extend on this to use RMTS.

With IMTS you train a crow to recognise a repeated pattern and to associate it with a reward (food). For example, you have three upturned beakers in a row each with a card with symbols on. You put the same symbol on one of the end beakers as on the middle one and a different symbol on the other end beaker. Under the beaker with the same symbol on as the middle one you put some food. Crows will very quickly learn to chose the matching symbol and get the reward.

Now, to change this into an RMTS test, instead of putting one symbol on each beaker, you put two. This means you now have two possibilities: you can put two identical symbols on each beaker or two different ones. You can do the same with the end beakers. It also means you can put two matching symbols on the central beaker and two matching symbols on one of the end beaker but not the same symbols as on the central one, and two non-matching symbols on the other end one. The important thing now becomes not the actual symbols but whether the matching/non-matching pattern is the same as on the central beaker.

Crows will spontaneously choose the correct beaker based on the pattern on the central beaker, not the actual symbols. For example, middle beaker has two crosses; right-hand beaker has two circles and left-hand beaker has one diamond and one square. Crows will spontaneously choose the right-hand beaker because it has the same pattern as the middle one. If the middle one had had two mismatched symbols the crow will chose the left-hand one.


  • Analogical reasoning is vital to advanced cognition and behavioral adaptation.
  • Some believe that analogical thinking is limited to humans or nonhuman primates.
  • However, crows too spontaneously solve higher-order relational matching tasks.
  • This is the strongest evidence yet of analogical reasoning in a nonprimate species.


Analogical reasoning is vital to advanced cognition and behavioral adaptation. Many theorists deem analogical thinking to be uniquely human and to be foundational to categorization, creative problem solving, and scientific discovery. Comparative psychologists have long been interested in the species generality of analogical reasoning, but they initially found it difficult to obtain empirical support for such thinking in nonhuman animals (for pioneering efforts, see). Researchers have since mustered considerable evidence and argument that relational matching-to-sample (RMTS) effectively captures the essence of analogy, in which the relevant logical arguments are presented visually. In RMTS, choice of test pair BB would be correct if the sample pair were AA, whereas choice of test pair EF would be correct if the sample pair were CD. Critically, no items in the correct test pair physically match items in the sample pair, thus demanding that only relational sameness or differentness is available to support accurate choice responding. Initial evidence suggested that only humans and apes can successfully learn RMTS with pairs of sample and test items; however, monkeys have subsequently done so. Here, we report that crows too exhibit relational matching behavior. Even more importantly, crows spontaneously display relational responding without ever having been trained on RMTS; they had only been trained on identity matching-to-sample (IMTS). Such robust and uninstructed relational matching behavior represents the most convincing evidence yet of analogical reasoning in a nonprimate species, as apes alone have spontaneously exhibited RMTS behavior after only IMTS training.

Once upon a time, we believed that only humans could do this, then evidence began to emerge that our closest relative, the great apes could do it, then that even some of our more distant cousins, monkeys could do it, and some other mammals like dolphins. We now know that members of a different order completely can do it.

Just as our once arrogant assumptions that we were the only sentient species, the only tool-using species; the only tool-making species, the only creative and empathetic species, all based on the nonsensical assumption that we are the special creation of a creator god and the only ones to have an imaginary thing called a 'soul', has crumbled under scientific scrutiny, so now has our arrogant assumption that we are the only species to think analogously has crumbled under the same scrutiny and another evidence-free religious dogma has been exposed as bogus and the creation of humans trying to be more important than they are.

We are now discovering that, although we may be especially good at these things they are by no means unique to us and may well be present to a greater or lesser extent in many of our fellow species. The abilities that religious apologists once waved as evidence that we were a special species, specially created apart from other life on Earth are being more and more shown to be not unique at all. They are not the things that separate us from the animals but the things that show our close kinship to them.

This is, of course, exactly what we would expect of evolved abilities extending on and perfecting what was present in our common ancestors. No wonder creationists need to feign being less intelligent than crows to avoid the inevitable conclusion of this fact.

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