Animal cognition

Jays plan meals in advance

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The ability to plan for a future need that differs from the current one was thought to be a uniquely human trait. However, researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, show that Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius; pictured) stash snacks according to their anticipated future desires, even if that means saving something they don't currently want.


Lucy Cheke and Nicola Clayton fed the birds with one type of food, such as peanuts, and then gave them an opportunity to store that food and another type, such as raisins, in two trays. The duo trained the birds to learn that in subsequent stages of the experiment they could access only one specific tray at a time. The birds sorted their snacks into the trays so that they could, at the next stage, access the food type that they would most desire at that time — that which they had not eaten in the previous stage.

The results suggest that the birds are able to override a current motivational state to plan for a future desire.

Biol. Lett. 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0909 (2011)

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