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Waiting for a better possibility: delay of gratification in corvids and its relationship to other cognitive capacities.

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Schnell, Alexandra K  ORCID logo
Boeckle, Markus 


Self-control, the ability to resist temptation and wait for better but delayed possibilities, is an important cognitive skill that underpins decision-making and planning. The capacity to exert self-control has been linked to intelligence in humans, chimpanzees and most recently cuttlefish. Here, we presented 10 Eurasian jays, Garrulus glandarius, with a delayed maintenance task, which measured the ability to choose a preferred outcome as well as the ability to sustain the delay prior to that outcome. Jays were able to wait for better possibilities, but maximum wait times varied across the subjects. We also presented them with five cognitive tasks that assessed spatial memory, spatial relationships and learning capacity. These tasks are commonly used as measures of general intelligence within an ecological context. Individual performance was correlated across the cognitive tasks, which suggests that there was a general intelligence factor underlying their performance. Performance in these tasks was correlated significantly with the jays' capacity to wait for better possibilities. This study demonstrates that self-control and intelligence are correlated in jays. The fact that this correlation exists in diverse species suggests that self-control is a fundamental feature of cognition. Our results are discussed in the context of convergent evolution. This article is part of the theme issue 'Thinking about possibilities: mechanisms, ontogeny, functions and phylogeny'.


Peer reviewed: True

Funder: Fondation Fyssen; Id:


cognitive evolution, convergent evolution, delay maintenance, general intelligence, inter-temporal choice task, self-control, Humans, Animals, Pleasure, Passeriformes, Self-Control, Pan troglodytes, Songbirds, Cognition

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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

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The Royal Society
H2020 European Research Council (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 3399933)
Royal Society (NIF\R1\180962)