Crows can ‘reason’ about causes, a recent study finds


Tool-making crows have the ability to “reason”, say scientists.

In an experiment, researchers found that crows were more likely to forage when they could attribute changes in their environment to a human presence.

This behaviour may suggest “complex cognition”, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Until now the ability to make inferences based on causes has been attributed to humans but not animals.

The study was a collaboration between researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, the University of Cambridge, UK and the University of Vienna, Austria.

In their experiment eight wild crows used tools to remove food from a box.

Inside the enclosure there was a stick and the crows were tested in two separate series of events that both involved the stick moving.

In one instance a human entered the hide and the stick moved. In the other, the stick still moved but no human entered.

On the occasions when no human was observed entering the hide, the crows abandoned their efforts to probe for food using a tool more frequently than they did when a human had been observed.

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  1. They are hiding something, in knew there was something better than man, there had to be, now here they are, the planet of the crows

  2. I used to be ambivalent towards crows, just a common bird. But recently I’ve been reading more and more about their level of intelligence, and my respect of these animals is beginning to sky rocket. They probably more rational creatures than some humans.

  3. This news makes me very, very nervous. William Lane Craig believes that the existence of God can be proved by using pure reason. If I extrapolate, does this mean that one day soon I can expect to see a couple of crows knocking on my door announcing the Truth about Sticks?
    What are the genetic similarities between the Stick Insect and the Praying Mantis? 
    I can imagine that crows are saying amongst themselves, “We’ve trained human beings to provide sticks to help us get our lunch. They even provide the lunch. However, there must be something a little perverse about these human beings, since they could well just serve lunch without making us mess around with sticks first. Maybe one day they’ll learn to reason too….”

  4. I have heard it said nothing we thought of as unique to humans is still n0t known of in other species, and yet every now and again since then another “we thought this was human only until now” finding comes out (whether or not the evidence really does substantiate that). Well, whether or not humans have any reasons to think of themselves as smart, I’m sure we’ve only just begun to discover what non-humans can do.

  5. Jos Gibbons :”I’m sure we’ve only just begun to discover what non-humans can do.”I wonder if we’ll discover the non-human equivalent of listening to the Saint Matthew’s Passion while smoking a cancer-provoking cigar and sipping a brain-pickling cognac. Or non-human  Wall-street traders, reality-TV shows and same-species equivalent of genocide.
    Are there any scientists out there willing to try out an experiment : get a group of reasonable crows and let them feed on the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. (I know a producer in Minais Gerais. He calls them Smart Apples though I suspect him of practising genetic modification.)  If the crows start covering up their naughty parts with fig leaves, building temples, nuclear power stations and Walmarts, I think that would be an important scientific break-through.
    Don’t you?

    Edit : An ornithologist friend has just told me that crows’ naughty bits are already modestly hidden from view. Good grief – Mormon crows???

  6. “just a common bird”?
    You have proven yourself  guilty of unashamed speciesism, sir. If you don’t repent immediately, you will have your stick taken away.

  7.  Drummond if crows start knocking on doors, I foresee problems brewing with the competition….

  8. Something to crow about! Seriously,

    I agree with one blogger’s opinion – kind of a backwards “innocent until proven guilty”.

    (paraphrasing) *Human arrogance presumes all life on earth does not possess pain capability, emotion, intelligence, until a study proves otherwise.
    Also, reason in the headline is qualified as ‘reason’, what’s up with that?*

  9. To be fair, I probably hold more contempt for some parts of human society than I ever did for crows.

  10. Crows are not particularly frightened by fast-moving vehicles. They understand that those stripes on the roadways are there for a reason, and take advantage of the fact.

  11. As others have observed, the more we learn about other animals’ abilities the more it seems that the only thing that makes humans truly unique is that we’re still the only animals which(who?) aren’t afraid of vacuum cleaners.

  12. No surprise here. I’m reading Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich. Corvids are Mind blowing.

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