Animal Cognition

Give Her What She Wants

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Science  15 Feb 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6121, pp. 738
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6121.738-a
CREDIT: LJERKA OSTOJIC

Most humans have excellent state-attribution skills; that is, we regularly attribute states we experience ourselves (e.g. hopes, desires, beliefs) to others. Such skills are essential for day-to-day human interactions and are particularly important in bonded relationships. The ability to understand another's perspective and wants has generally been considered to be specific to humans, but the benefits of such skills could confer an adaptive advantage for many species. Thus, these skills may be present in non-human animals but just difficult to demonstrate. Ostojić et al. use a suite of controlled experiments in Eurasian jays and find evidence that state attribution is present in these monogamous birds. Specifically, consumption of one preferred food by females reduced their desire for it later, when compared with another preferred food. They showed that males were attuned to this "specific satiety" and flexibly offered females the preferred food that they had not been offered previously. The authors ruled out several alternative explanations, such as the potential that the female was giving behavioral cues during the feeding: Males had to be able to observe the initial feeding in order to best judge what the female would most want next. Besides demonstrating that male Eurasian jays make thoughtful and observant mates, these results suggest that state attribution may not be ours alone.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 110, 10.1073/pnas.1209926110 (2013).

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