Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Planning for the future by western scrub-jays

Abstract

Knowledge of and planning for the future is a complex skill that is considered by many to be uniquely human. We are not born with it; children develop a sense of the future at around the age of two and some planning ability by only the age of four to five1,2,3. According to the Bischof-Köhler hypothesis4, only humans can dissociate themselves from their current motivation and take action for future needs: other animals are incapable of anticipating future needs, and any future-oriented behaviours they exhibit are either fixed action patterns or cued by their current motivational state. The experiments described here test whether a member of the corvid family, the western scrub-jay (Aphelocoma californica), plans for the future. We show that the jays make provision for a future need, both by preferentially caching food in a place in which they have learned that they will be hungry the following morning and by differentially storing a particular food in a place in which that type of food will not be available the next morning. Previous studies have shown that, in accord with the Bischof-Köhler hypothesis, rats5 and pigeons6 may solve tasks by encoding the future but only over very short time scales. Although some primates and corvids7,8,9 take actions now that are based on their future consequences, these have not been shown to be selected with reference to future motivational states10, or without extensive reinforcement of the anticipatory act11. The results described here suggest that the jays can spontaneously plan for tomorrow without reference to their current motivational state, thereby challenging the idea that this is a uniquely human ability.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Compartmental layout used for the ‘planning for breakfast’ experiment.
Figure 2: Mean number of peanuts and kibble cached in the ‘breakfast choice’ experiment.

References

  1. Atance, C. M. & O'Neill, D. K. Episodic future thinking. Trends Cogn. Sci. 5, 533–539 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Atance, C. M. & Meltzoff, A. N. My future self: young children's ability to anticipate and explain future states. Cogn. Dev. 20, 341–361 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Suddendorf, T. & Busby, J. Making decisions with the future in mind: developmental and comparative identification of mental time travel. Learn. Motiv. 36, 110–125 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Suddendorf, T. & Corballis, M. C. Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind. Genet. Soc. Gen. Psychol. Monogr. 123, 133–167 (1997)

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Cook, R. C., Brown, M. F. & Riley, D. A. Flexible memory processing by rats: use of prospective and retrospective information in the radial maze. J. Exp. Psychol. Anim. Behav. Process. 11, 453–469 (1985)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Zentall, T. R., Steirn, J. N. & Jackson-Smith, P. Memory strategies in pigeons' performance of a radial-arm-maze analog task. J. Exp. Psychol. Anim. Behav. Process. 16, 358–371 (1990)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Mulcahy, N. J. & Call, J. Apes save tools for future use. Science 312, 1038–1040 (2006)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  8. Roberts, W. A. Are animals stuck in time?. Psychol. Bull. 128, 473–489 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Clayton, N. S., Dally, J., Gilbert, J. & Dickinson, A. Food caching by western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) is sensitive to the conditions at recovery. J. Exp. Psychol. Anim. Behav. Process. 31, 115–124 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Suddendorf, T. Foresight and evolution of the human mind. Science 312, 1006–1007 (2006)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Naqshbandi, M. & Roberts, W. A. Anticipation of future events in squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) and rats (Rattus norvegicus): tests of the Bischof-Kohler hypothesis. J. Comp. Psych. 120, 345–357 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Rosenbaum, R. S. et al. The case of KC: contributions of a memory-impaired person to memory theory. Neuropsychologia 43, 989–1021 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Klein, S. B., Loftus, J. & Kihlstrom, J. F. Memory and temporal experience: the effects of episodic memory loss on an amnesic patient's ability to remember the past and imagine the future. Soc. Cogn. 20, 353–379 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Okuda, J. et al. Thinking of the future and past: The roles of the frontal pole and the medial temporal lobes. Neuroimage 19, 1369–1380 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Clayton, N. S. & Dickinson, A. Episodic-like memory during cache recovery by scrub jays. Nature 395, 272–274 (1998)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Dally, J. M., Emery, N. J. & Clayton, N. S. Food-caching western scrub-jays keep track of who was watching when. Science 312, 1662–1665 (2006)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Clayton, N. S., Bussey, T. J. & Dickinson, A. Can animals recall the past and plan for the future? Nature Rev. Neurosci. 4, 685–691 (2003)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Roitman, M. F., van Dijk, G., Thiele, T. E. & Bernstein, I. L. Dopamine mediation of the feeding response to violations of spatial and temporal expectancies. Behav. Brain Res. 122, 193–199 (2001)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Petrovich, G. D., Ross, C. A., Gallagher, M. & Holland, P. C. Learned contextual cue potentiates eating in rats. Physiol. Behav. (in the press).

  20. Clayton, N. S. & Dickinson, A. Motivational control of caching behaviour in the scrub jay, Aphelocoma coerulescens.. Anim. Behav. 57, 435–444 (1999)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by a BBSRC Grant and the University of Cambridge, and was conducted within an MRC Cooperative Grant. Thanks to J. Dally, A. Seed and M. Ellis for comments on the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to N. S. Clayton.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Raby, C., Alexis, D., Dickinson, A. et al. Planning for the future by western scrub-jays. Nature 445, 919–921 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05575

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05575

This article is cited by

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing