An ingenious experiment performed on ravens suggests that these clever birds are capable of understanding the state of mind of other individuals.
The question of whether non-human animals have a so-called ‘Theory of Mind’ is an age-old biological and philosophical problem.
For instance there is good evidence that some primates and corvids will guard a cache of food if they know that a rival saw them hide it.
However, it has proved tricky to eliminate the possibility that animals are simply responding to the direction of others’ gaze, rather than understanding what the potential rival can see – or, indeed, that other individuals are able to see at all.
The new research involved training ravens to watch through a peephole while other ravens hid food.
The observing birds were then savvy to the idea that rivals might also be able to watch them through the peephole.
This meant that when it was the observers’ turn to hide food, they would guard their cache if they could hear ravens on the other side of the peephole – even though they could not see where, or if, they were looking; and what’s more, they would only do this when the peephole was open.
The scientists argue that this requires a basic understanding of what others can and cannot see.
Source Nature Communications