Performance in Object-Choice Aesop's Fable Tasks Are Influenced by Object Biases in New Caledonian Crows but not in Human Children
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Harrison, R. M., Jelbert, S., Taylor, A., Cheke, L., Gray, R., Loissel, E., & Clayton, N. (2016). Performance in Object-Choice Aesop's Fable Tasks Are Influenced by Object Biases in New Caledonian Crows but not in Human Children. PLoS One, 11 (12. e0168056)https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0168056
The ability to reason about causality underlies key aspects of human cognition, but the extent to which non-humans understand causality is still largely unknown. The Aesop's Fable paradigm, where objects are inserted into water-filled tubes to obtain out-of-reach rewards, has been used to test casual reasoning in birds and children. However, success on these tasks may be influenced by other factors, specifically, object preferences present prior to testing or arising during pre-test stone-dropping training. Here, we assessed this 'object-bias' hypothesis by giving New Caledonian crows and 5-10 year old children two object-choice Aesop's Fable experiments: sinking vs. floating objects, and solid vs. hollow objects. Before each test, we assessed subjects' object preferences and/or trained them to prefer the alternative object. Both crows and children showed pre-test object preferences, suggesting that birds in previous Aesop's Fable studies may also have had initial preferences for objects that proved to be functional on test. After training to prefer the non-functional object, crows, but not children, performed more poorly on these two object-choice Aesop's Fable tasks than subjects in previous studies. Crows dropped the non-functional objects into the tube on their first trials, indicating that, unlike many children, they do not appear to have an a priori understanding of water displacement. Alternatively, issues with inhibition could explain their performance. The crows did, however, learn to solve the tasks over time. We tested crows further to determine whether their eventual success was based on learning about the functional properties of the objects, or associating dropping the functional object with reward. Crows inserted significantly more rewarded, non-functional objects than non-rewarded, functional objects. These findings suggest that the ability of New Caledonian crows to produce performances rivaling those of young children on object-choice Aesop's Fable tasks is partly due to pre-existing object preferences.
This research was funded by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framewor k Programme (FP7/ 2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 3399933, awarded to NSC (funding RM, SAJ, EL & NSC). AHT was funded by a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship from the Royal Society of New Zealand.
European Research Council (339993)
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External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0168056
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/262799
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