IN a twist on the famous psychological experiment of self-control – would you like one marshmallow now, or could you wait just 15 minutes for two instead? – scientists found ravens outdid chimpanzees and even four-yearolds when challenged to defer gratification and plan ahead.
According to the Swedish researchers, ravens chose and held on to tools they’d need to extract chunks of tasty dog food the following day.
They also learnt to gather up tokens they could trade for tidbits 15 minutes later. Their most striking accomplishment, though, was selecting a tube-winkling stick over a meal with a view to using the tool to get a bigger and more tasty snack up to two days later.
One female raven was so canny she bypassed the experiment by discovering a way to ransack a food container without the use of an implement.
But corvids (the family to which they belong) aren’t alone in this. Octopuses can unscrew jars and use coconut shells as portable houses.
Monkeys in Bali were recently found to be stealing tourists’ valuables and ‘bartering’ them back to them in exchange for tasty treats. And orangutans?
Apparently, they can bear lasting grudges against humans. One called Santino used to plan for attacks on visitors to his enclosure. He’d stash away a heap of rocks, saunter casually around when he saw tourists approaching, and then scarper off to his munitions dump and start hurling the rocks the moment they were turning away for the next enclosure.
Right! So, bird brain no longer an insult then?
It may well be that certain animals have aspects of intelligence far beyond our own, but based on our general behaviour that’s not a high bar, is it? And, yes, well this is most probably the pinnacle of these particular corvids’ intellectual potential whereas the fouryear old referred to by the scientists likely has the potential (when grown, with her brain fully wired up) to become a doctor, a scientist… or even a US president.
And a final thought: can ravens outsmart their parents? Most four-years-olds have been doing that for half their lives.
Nora Johnson’s psychological/suspense crime thrillers ‘No Way Back,’ ‘Landscape of Lies,’ ‘Retribution,’ ‘Soul Stealer,’ ‘The De Clerambault Code’ (www.nora-john son.net) available from Amazon in paperback/eBook (€0.99;£0.99) and iBookstore. All profits to Costa del Sol Cudeca cancer charity.