Crows Possess Higher Intelligence Thought Limited To Humans
Here’s another revelation for 2020’s mixing pot of bamboozlement: crows are aware of what they know.
Birds get a bad reputation. Think back to how you’ve watched pigeons, seagulls and crows before, picking away at scraps, bread and chips either thrown or stolen. Their functions, on the surface, appear to be solely flying and eating.
Consider Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Picture the sentient malevolence in your mind, as Tippi Hedren sneaks past the playground. While crows aren’t evil, they have a higher intelligence than we give them credit for.
Previous studies and experiments have hinted towards their intellect, whether it be solving Aesop’s geometry puzzles or helping a hedgehog to cross a road before it becomes roadkill.
Two studies have emerged which illustrate the complex nature of a crow’s mind. The first found the birds to be capable of knowing and pondering the content of their own head, an ability typically likened to humans and other mammals such as apes.
The second study, both of which were published in Science, looked at the neuroanatomy of pigeons and barn owls, with its findings applicable to corvids (the family of birds which includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers).
Neurobiologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel of Vanderbilt University, who also wrote an analysis of the studies, explained to STAT that ‘the two papers show that intelligence/consciousness are grounded in connectivity and activity patterns of neurons’ in the pallium, the most neuron-dense part of a bird’s brain.
She added: ‘Brains can appear diverse, and at the same time share profound similarities. The extent to which similar properties present themselves might be simply a matter of scale: how many neurons are available to work.’
In the first study, two carrion crows were trained to peck a red or a blue target on a panel, depending on whether they saw a faint light.
The paper continued: ‘After a delay, a rule cue informed the crow about which motor action was required to report its percept. Thus, the crows could not prepare motor responses prior to the rule cues, which enabled the investigation of neuronal activity related to subjective sensory experience and its lasting accessibility.’
Neurobiologist Andreas Nieder of the University of Tübingen explained to STAT further:
I think it demonstrates convincingly that crows and probably other advanced birds have sensory awareness, in the sense that they have specific subjective experiences that they can communicate. Besides crows, this kind of neurobiological evidence for sensory consciousness only exists in humans and macaque monkeys.
The second study showed that crows don’t have the ‘six connected layers thought to produce higher intelligence’, as you’d find in smarter mammals. However, Martin Stacho of Ruhr-University in Germany noted that they do have ‘connectivity patterns… reminiscent of the neocortex’.
Herculano-Houzel added: ‘In theory, any brain that has a large number of neurons connected into associative circuitry… could be expected to add flexibility and complexity to behaviour. That is my favorite operational definition of intelligence: behavioural flexibility.’
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