Ravens parallel great apes in flexible planning for tool-use and bartering

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Science  14 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6347, pp. 202-204
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam8138

Making a plan

Until recently, planning for the future has generally been considered to be unique to humans. Studies in the past 10 years have suggested that apes and scrub jays are also able to make such plans. However, these studies—especially those in the birds—have been questioned. It has been argued that planning in foraging and natural tasks is not the same as planning in a more general way. Kabadayi et al. tested ravens with tasks designed to specifically assess their general planning abilities (see the Perspective by Boeckle and Clayton). Confirming their forward-planning abilities, the birds performed at least as well as apes and small children in this complex cognitive task.

Science, this issue p. 202; see also p. 126


The ability to flexibly plan for events outside of the current sensory scope is at the core of being human and is crucial to our everyday lives and society. Studies on apes have shaped a belief that this ability evolved within the hominid lineage. Corvids, however, have shown evidence of planning their food hoarding, although this has been suggested to reflect a specific caching adaptation rather than domain-general planning. Here, we show that ravens plan for events unrelated to caching—tool-use and bartering—with delays of up to 17 hours, exert self-control, and consider temporal distance to future events. Their performance parallels that seen in apes and suggests that planning evolved independently in corvids, which opens new avenues for the study of cognitive evolution.

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