Future planning was once believed to be a skill that only humans and great apes can manage, but now researchers have discovered that ravens share this capability. In fact, they are better at preparing for future events than 4-year-old children.
Scientists from Sweden’s Lund University trained the ravens to open a puzzle box using a tool in order to get a reward placed inside. Afterward, they were given the box without the tool before the box was removed once again.
An hour later, they were given the opening tool along with several other objects designed to distract them. Almost every raven chose the right tool for opening the box. When they were given the box again 15 minutes later, 86 percent on them successfully opened it using the tool.
Next, they were given the box-opening tool once again, along with the distractor tools and an immediate reward that was not as appealing as the one found in the box. They were only allowed to choose one item. The birds largely went after the tool, showing a high level of self-control that matches that found in apes.
Other experiments yield similar results
Similar results were seen in another experiment that was designed for ravens to use a token to barter for a reward later. In that experiment, they were required to give experimenters a bottle cap in order to receive a piece of food. When offered the bottle cap along with other distractors, their success rate in choosing the bottle cap was 78 percent, despite the fact that would then have to wait 15 minutes in order to use it for bartering. This preference was still seen when a smaller treat was included among the distractors and when they had to wait 17 hours before using the tool. On this task, the ravens outperformed chimpanzees, orangutans and even 4-year-old children.
The ability of ravens to plan tasks that they don’t use in their natural surroundings, such as bartering and utilizing tools, illustrates how flexible their planning skills are. Although scientists have long known that the corvid bird family – which includes ravens as well as crows and magpies – was intelligent, they didn’t realize how complex their cognitive skills were. Past tests only looked at behaviors they already perform in the wild; this one provides evidence that the birds can transfer cognitive abilities related to future planning to their other behaviors.
Are you as smart as a bird?
Ravens have been demonstrating their intelligence for quite some time, collecting string to pull up food that is hanging, trying to trick each other, and storing food for later.
It is this last ability that calls to mind the idea of prepping, something that not all humans seem to see the value in. Indeed, nearly half of American households do not even have an emergency water supply. Even if you don’t live in a disaster-prone area, there is no telling what could happen, so it pays to take some inspiration from these clever ravens and do some of your own prepping. At the very least, it’s a good idea to have an emergency survival kit with medical supplies, organic storable food and water, fire starters, folding knives, compasses, water purifiers, flashlights, batteries and other tools.