New Study Shines Light On Ravens’ Planning Skills, Ability To Solve Problems

They’ve long been known to be among the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom, but a study published earlier this week in the journal Science suggests that ravens can plan for the future, and plan for events that they have yet to encounter. This also suggests that they may be smarter than great apes, and probably smarter than the average 4-year-old human child.

As documented by Scientific American, the study on ravens was led by Lund University (Sweden) cognitive zoologist Mathias Osvath, and graduate student Can Kabadayi, from the same institution. The two researchers made use of the same experiments conducted to test how well apes are able to plan for the future, but instead of apes, ravens were the test subjects, as Osvath and Kabadayi taught the birds how to solve a series of puzzles.

The first puzzle had the researchers teaching the ravens to use a stone to remove a food pellet from a box. With the box removed on the next day, Osvath and Kabadayi took the stone and various “distracter objects” — toys too light or too heavy/bulky to solve the puzzle — and asked the birds to choose between these items. When the box was brought back some 15 minutes after the choices were made, the ravens showed planning abilities by choosing the correct tool (the stone) with close to 80 percent accuracy. They were also able to use the tools successfully about 86 percent of the time.


A second test had the researchers asking the birds to give them a bottle cap in exchange for food, and the results were even better. On almost every occasion, the ravens chose the bottle cap over the distracter toys, even if this meant a waiting time of 15 minutes before they get their food. Similar results were yielded when the ravens were forced to sacrifice a smaller piece of food in exchange for a tool or the bottle cap, and also when they had to wait 17 hours before using each of the items.

According to University of Cambridge professor of psychology Markus Bockle, who was not involved in the study, the proven ability of ravens to plan ahead is an exciting development, as birds had typically been observed to show planning skills when monitored in the wild, where they could have developed such specialized skills over time.


“There was no real proof that [ravens] actually can transfer a cognitive ability in future planning to other behaviors. This is the first time we have clear evidence in any animal [excluding humans],” said Bockle in a statement.

University of Queensland cognitive psychologist Jonathan Redshaw also was not involved in the study, and in comments quoted by Scientific American, he hinted that the ability of ravens to make flexible plans may have gone through at least two evolutions in “separate lineages of animals” that may have diverged about 320 million years ago.

Although the findings do lend credence to previous studies hinting at the intelligence of ravens, their capability of planning ahead isn’t exactly unique among living creatures that aren’t great apes or humans. According to Tech Times, squirrels, for instance, have been proven to solve problems quickly, even if they had last encountered the problem two years prior. And as the Inquisitr wrote earlier this year, octopuses and other cephalopods can rewrite their own RNA to adapt to unfamiliar situations and solve complex problems.

[Featured Image by Jason Merritt/Getty Images]