A recent study finds that Eurasian jays can pass a version of the “marshmallow test” and that the smarter jays had the greatest self-control. The original marshmallow test tested children to see if they could resist eating one marshmallow if they were offered two later. So enterprising researchers decided to try it on smart birds:
To test the self-control of ten Eurasian jays, Garrulus glandarius, researchers designed an experiment inspired by the 1972 Stanford Marshmallow test — in which children were offered a choice between one marshmallow immediately, or two if they waited for a period of time.
Instead of marshmallows, the jays were presented with mealworms, bread and cheese. Mealworms are a common favourite; bread and cheese come second but individuals vary in their preference for one over the other.
The birds had to choose between bread or cheese — available immediately, and mealworm that they could see but could only get to after a delay, when a Perspex screen was raised. Could they delay immediate gratification and wait for their favourite food?
A range of delay times was tested, from five seconds to five and a half minutes, before the mealworm was made available if the bird had resisted the temptation to eat the bread or cheese.
All the birds in the experiment managed to wait for the worm, but some could wait much longer than others. Top of the class was ‘JayLo’, who ignored a piece of cheese and waited five and a half minutes for a mealworm. The worst performers, ‘Dolci’ and ‘Homer’, could only wait a maximum of 20 seconds…
The birds that performed better in these tasks also managed to wait longer for the mealworm reward. This suggests that self-control is linked with intelligence in jays.UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE, “JUST LIKE HUMANS, MORE INTELLIGENT JAYS HAVE GREATER SELF-CONTROL” AT SCIENCE DAILY (OCTOBER 22, 2022) THE PAPER IS OPEN ACCESS.
“The Feathered Apes”
The researchers offer some comments:
Jays are members of the corvid family, often nicknamed the ‘feathered apes’ because they rival non-human primates in their cognitive abilities. Corvids hide, or ‘cache’, their food to save it for later. In other words, they need to delay immediate gratification to plan for future meals. The researchers think this may have driven the evolution of self-control in these birds.
Self-control has been previously shown to be linked to intelligence in humans, chimpanzees and — in an earlier study by these researchers — in cuttlefish. The greater the intelligence, the greater the self-control.
The new results show that the link between intelligence and self-control exists across distantly related animal groups, suggesting it has evolved independently several times.
Of all the corvids, jays in particular are vulnerable to having their caches stolen by other birds. Self-control also enables them to wait for the right moment to hide their food without being seen or heard.UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE, “JUST LIKE HUMANS, MORE INTELLIGENT JAYS HAVE GREATER SELF-CONTROL” AT SCIENCE DAILY (OCTOBER 22, 2022)
Some questions arise at this point. Jays clearly have a well-developed sense of timing — required by their life circumstances — about when to eat and when to wait. It’s easy to see how self-control would vary with general intelligence because the test requires the bird to fix the sequence of the preferred reward in its memory. Thus intelligence test compares one jay with another in this regard.
Read the rest at Mind Matters News, published by Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.