Photo credit: Jana Mueller
By Molly Jackson
From ancient Greek mythology to Native American folklore, ravens tend to have the same role: the clever tricksters you don’t want to cross. Corvus corax and its relatives were even spies for Apollo, which didn’t end well for his unfaithful lover Coronis, and served as the eyes and ears of Norse god Odin.
Ravens do spy on each other, it turns out, and they can infer when other birds are snooping on them. New findings, released Tuesday in a study in Nature Communications, highlight just how sophisticated – and human-like – ravens’ cognitive abilities are.
“What really is the feature that’s unique and special about human cognition?” asks co-author Cameron Buckner, a philosopher at the University of Houston.
Something helped propel us to learn language, built political institutions, develop arts and culture. Many biologists and philosophers think it’s our ability to see things through another person’s eyes, and to think about what they might be thinking, skills referred to as “Theory of Mind.”
But ravens do have basic Theory of Mind, the authors suggest, after cracking one of the biggest puzzles in animal cognition debates: without speech, how can we tell what a bird is thinking?
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