Ravens know when they’re being watched

Ravens know when they’re being watched

From our journal article: Bugnyar, T., Reber, S. A., & Buckner, C. (2016). Ravens attribute visual access to unseen competitors. Nature Communications, 7. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms10506

By Rachel Feltman  in the Washington Post 

“It sounds like a line from “Twin Peaks,” but it’s actually the conclusion of a study published in Nature Communications: Ravens are able to figure out when food-thieving rivals might be lurking, and they react accordingly. This neat behavior could mean that the birds possess so-called Theory of Mind — an ability to predict the mental state of another animal (or in other words, to theorize that this other animal has a mind), which is one of the defining traits of humans and closely related primates.”

By the Guardian

“Ravens can imagine being spied upon by a hidden competitor, showing a capacity for abstraction once thought to be exclusively human, according to a new study. Scientists have shown that the birds take extra care to hide food if they suspect their movements are being monitored by another raven, even when the second bird is not actually there. The findings, published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, suggest that ravens – without recourse to direct observation – are able to understand what might be going on in the mind of another individual.”
“Fears over surveillance seem to figure large in the bird world, too. Ravens hide their food more quickly if they think they are being watched, even when no other bird is in sight. It’s the strongest evidence yet that ravens have a “theory of mind” – that they can attribute mental states such as knowledge to others. Many studies have shown that certain primates and birds behave differently in the presence of peers who might want to steal their food. While some researchers think this shows a theory of mind, others say they might just be reacting to visual cues, rather than having a mental representation of what others can see and know.”

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