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Eurasian jays avoid rewards for a tastier delayed treat, study finds | Birds


The old adage says a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but it seems Eurasian jays disagree: Researchers have found that corvids eschew an immediate reward for a tastier treat, but delayed.

Additionally, the team found that birds that showed the most self-control scored higher on a variety of cognitive tests, suggesting they were smarter.

Dr Alex Schnell, first author of the University of Cambridge study, said the relationship had already been seen in chimpanzees and cuttlefish – species that diverged a long time ago.

“For the first time, we show a link between self-control and intelligence in birds,” Schnell said. “Our research provides further evidence that self-control plays a key role in what it means to be smart.”

Writing in the Royal Society B journal Philosophical Transactions, Schnell and colleagues report how 10 Eurasian jays were presented with a series of drawers with a different symbol on the front. Each contained a treat that was visible to the bird.

Over a series of trials, the birds learned the symbols related to the availability of the treat in the drawer – while one drawer offered an immediately available treat, the contents of another drawer were only available after a delay and those in a third drawer remained unavailable. The birds also learned that once they chose a treat, the other options were removed.

After determining each bird’s treat preferences, the team investigated whether, and for how long, the birds were willing to wait for a “late” drawer worm when a less preferred snack, either bread or cheese, was immediately available.

The experiments are similar to the so-called “marshmallow test” – a famous challenge presented to young children by Stanford University researchers in the 1960s and 70s, in which children were given a choice of a single marshmallow immediately or two sweet treats. whether they resisted the urge to eat first for a given period.

The results of the new study reveal that while the birds varied in how long they were willing to wait, all delayed eating the immediate snack in hopes of something better. However, the birds seemed to find the wait more difficult as the delay increased.

“Some only waited a maximum of 20 seconds and failed all other trials with longer delays. In contrast, others waited up to five and a half minutes,” Schnell said.

The team adds that the birds showed few signs of expectation when the tastiest treat was presented in the “unavailable” drawer, suggesting they only delayed gratification when it was worthwhile.

While other birds, including pigeons, have already passed versions of the marshmallow test, the latest study goes further, revealing that jays that were able to wait longer showed better general intelligence, as determined by five different cognitive tests.

Schnell noted that studies in humans had previously suggested a link between self-control and general intelligence. However, recent research has questioned the strength of findings suggesting that children who are more patient in the marshmallow test do better later in life, with the association being significantly weakened once factors such as family history, early cognitive abilities and home environment are taken into account. Account.

Dr Manon Schweinfurth, an animal behavior expert from the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the work, welcomed the new study, noting that the results suggest that self-control and cognition are linked in birds.

“This suggests that self-control and cognition are linked. Indeed, the same link has also been found in children,” she said.

Schweinfurth added that, since birds are only so distant from us and other primates, the results suggest that either the link between self-control and cognition is more universal or has evolved multiple times.

“Future studies are needed to understand the evolutionary origins of this link and whether the link between self-control and cognition is limited to spatial cognition or could be extended to other cognitive skills, such as social skills,” she said.

theguardian Gt

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