According to the Bischof-Kohler hypothesis, 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 behaviors they exhibit are either fixed action patterns or cued by their current motivational state. Well guess what, thats a lot of BS. According to a paper published in the most recent edition of Nature details that birds–scrub jays, in this study–genuinely plan ahead.
(Continued below the fold…)
Two requirements for planning are:
1. the behavior involves a novel action
2. the behavior should be appropriate to a motivational state other than the one the animal is in at that moment.
Raby et al describes the first observations of birds which fufill both those requirements. Scrub jays naturally hide away food, and in Raby’s experiments, jays were first given the opportunity to get information about the location of a food source that would be available in the morning. The evening before, the authors observed the birds planning for breakfast by catching food in the place where it was most like to be needed.
The jays lived in large cages with 3 “rooms”: the breakfast room, the central room, and no-breakfast room (below).
Experiment 1: The birds were given powdered pine nuts to eat, which they couldn’t store away, and then the next morning each bird was confined to one of the end rooms for two hours. In the ‘breakfast room’, a bird was always fed, whereas in the ‘no breakfast room’ no food was given. After several days of this treatment, the birds came to expect food in the breakfast room, and no food in the no-breakfast room. During the test phase, the birds were given whole pine nuts the night before, and were allowed to store them wherever they pleased. They found that the birds stored three times as many pine nuts in the no-breakfast room as in the breakfast room. All the data came from this one test, so the effect of having or not having food the next day didn’t impact the birds’ behavior.
Experiment 2: In this experiment, the birds learned the expect breakfast in both rooms, with peanuts in one and dog kibble in the other. That evening, the birds began to store peanuts and kibble in the rooms so that each room held the food it normally lacks (ie, they stored peanuts in the kibble room and vice versa).
And from the discussion:
Not much more than 100 years ago, interpreting any of these observations as humanlike planning would not have been problematic. Indeed, Darwin’s programme for documenting evolutionary continuity between human minds and those of other species encouraged anthropomorphic interpretations of animal behaviour. This attitude was largely replaced, in both experimental psychology and ethology,by a bias against ‘mentalistic’ explanations. But recent years have seen a resurgence of attempts to document processes in animals that in humans are accompanied by distinctive conscious states. Besides thinking about the future, examples include awareness of other individuals’ states of mind, understanding how tools work, intentional deception, and empathy.