This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

The Wisdom of Not Being Too Rational


Clever crow. Birds can solve problems like the one in Aesop's fable, but children are quicker to master more ambiguous puzzles.

Many children (and adults) have heard Aesop's fable about the crow and the pitcher. A thirsty crow comes across a pitcher partly filled with water but can't reach the water with his beak. So he keeps dropping pebbles into the pitcher until the water level rises high enough. A new study finds that both young children and members of the crow family are good at solving this problem, but children appear to learn it in a very different ways from birds.

Recent studies, particularly ones conducted by Nicola Clayton's experimental psychology group at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have shown that members of the crow family are no birdbrains when it comes to cognitive abilities. They can make and use tools, plan for the future, and possibly even figure out what other birds are thinking, although that last claim is currently being debated. A few years ago, two members of Clayton's group showed that rooks can learn to drop stones into a water-filled tube to get at a worm floating on the surface. And last year, a team led by Clayton's graduate student Lucy Cheke reported similar experiments with Eurasian jays: Using three different experimental setups, Cheke and her colleagues found that the jays could solve the puzzle as long as the basic mechanism responsible for raising the water level was clear to the birds.

To explore how learning in children might differ from rooks, jays, and other members of the highly intelligent crow family, Cheke teamed up with a fellow Clayton lab member, psychologist Elsa Loissel, to try the same three experiments on local schoolchildren aged 4 to 10 years. Eighty children were recruited for the experiments, which took place at their school with the permission of their parents.

In all three experiments, instead of worms, the children tried to retrieve red tokens that they could exchange for colorful stickers depicting animals, pirates, and other images. (The team found that both younger and older children were keenly interested in having the stickers.)

In the first experiment, the children were presented with two tubes, one filled with water and the other with sawdust, and had to decide which one to drop marbles into to get a token from inside.

The second experiment featured just one tube filled with water, but the children had to choose between two different objects to put into it—a cork ball that floated, or a marble that sunk.

Read more

TAGGED: BEHAVIOR, SCIENCE


RELATED CONTENT

Nasa's Curiosity rover zaps Mars rock

Jonathan Amos - BBC News Comments

Pew pew pew pew

Sun Is Roundest Natural Object Known

Dave Mosher - National Geographic Comments

The sun is the roundest natural object ever precisely measured, astronomers say.

Book written in DNA code

Geraint Jones - The Guardian Comments

Scientists who encoded the book say it could soon be cheaper to store information in DNA than in conventional digital devices

Prisoners pitch in to save endangered...

Ed Yong - Nature News Comments

Under the supervision of guards and graduate students, a small group of prisoners is breeding the beautiful orange-and-white insects in a greenhouse outside the prison. They have even carried out research to show what plants the butterfly prefers to lay its eggs on.

U.S. Should Adopt Higher Standards for...

- - Scientific American Comments

Teachers, scientists and policymakers have drafted ambitious new education standards. All 50 states should adopt them

17-year-old girl builds artificial...

John Roach - NBC News Comments

An artificial “brain” built by a 17-year-old whiz kid from Florida is able to accurately assess tissue samples for signs of breast cancer, providing more confidence to a minimally invasive procedure.

MORE

MORE BY MICHAEL BALTER

Modern Humans Blamed for Neanderthal...

Michael Balter - Wired Science Comments

New studies on volcanic glass show that a volcanic eruption once thought to be blamed for the demise of Neanderthals occurred after they were already gone.

Case Closed for Dino Killer?

Michael Balter - AAAS 37 Comments

Mass Killings of Gazelles Marked Rise...

Michael Balter - Scientific American 5 Comments

Language May Have Helped Early Humans...

Michael Balter - AAAS 11 Comments

Ancient Britons Used Skulls as Cups

Michael Balter - news.sciencemag.org 17 Comments

MORE

Comments

Please Login to RDFRS to Comment

Sign in to RDF

blog comments powered by Disqus