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Jays are sensitive to cognitive illusions.

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Schnell, Alexandra K  ORCID logo
Garcia-Pelegrin, Elias 
Wilkins, Clive 


Jays hide food caches, steal them from conspecifics and use tactics to minimize cache theft. Jays are sensitive to the content of their own caches, retrieving items depending on their preferences and the perishability of the cached item. Whether jays impose the same content sensitivity when they steal caches is less clear. We adapted the 'cups-and-balls' magic routine, creating a cognitive illusion to test whether jays are sensitive to the (i) content of hidden items and (ii) type of displacement. Subjects were presented with two conditions in which hidden food was consistent with their expectations; and two conditions in which food was manipulated to violate their expectations by switching their second preferred food for their preferred food (up-value) or vice versa (de-value). Subjects readily accepted food when it was consistent with their expectations but were more likely to re-inspect the baited cup and alternative cup when their expectations were violated. In the de-value condition, jays exhibited longer latencies to consume the food and often rejected it. Dominant subjects were more likely to reject the food, suggesting that social factors influence their responses to cognitive illusions. Using cognitive illusions offers innovative avenues for investigating the psychological constraints in diverse animal minds.



cognitive evolution, corvid cognition, magic effects, psychological constraints, violation of expectations

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R Soc Open Sci

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The Royal Society


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Royal Society (NIF/R1/180962)
Yes, The Royal Society