If you consistently find yourself shaking your head while watching shows like “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader,” you can get your revenge by introducing one of these smarty-pants kids to a crow and give them a test. A new study found that crows, ravens and their corvid relatives exhibit signs of higher intelligence and analytical thought just like humans and some other primates. Wait a minute … if crows are smarter than a fifth grader and you have trouble with that show …
“Specifically, carrion crows show a neuronal response in the palliative end brain during the performance of a task that correlates with their perception of a stimulus.”
If that doesn’t make sense, go ask a crow to explain it to you. The journal Science published a new study by neurobiologists at the University of Tübingen, who demonstrated through experiments that carrion crows (Corvus corone) are capable of conscious perception – and they’re able to do it while lacking the cerebral cortex that human brains use for that process. Conscious perception or consciousness is an awareness an awareness of one's own internal experience and external existence. While that makes sense in humans, it’s hard to imagine that an animal – let alone a bird with their tiny brains and no cerebral cortex – could achieve consciousness. And yet …
“Our results however conclusively show that nerve cells at higher processing levels of the crow’s brain are influenced by subjective experience, or more precisely produce subjective experiences.”
In a press release, Professor Andreas Nieder, a neurobiologist at the University of Tübingen, explains how the team trained two carrion crows to move their heads in response to seeing certain colors on a screen. The intensity of the colors was varied and, while the crows had no trouble with bright colors, they sometimes missed when the colors were faint. Instruments measuring the brain activity of the crows showed that the crows were not only reacting to perceiving the color, but also showed them making an internal assessment of the situation and responding accordingly. In other words, they were aware of what they were doing and it was more than instinct – it was consciousness.
“The last common ancestors of humans and crows lived 320 million years ago, It is possible that the consciousness of perception arose back then and has been passed down ever since.”
Nieder humbles us with the thought that crows have been conscious for 320 million years – the same as humans. And without a cerebral cortex! This means that other birds and animals with dissimilar brain structures may have the consciousness of perception as well. In fact, another study published this week in Science tested pigeons and owls and found physical evidence in their brain neurons that could indicate the ability to perceive consciousness, although not at the level of crows.
Remember the Aesop’s fable about dropping stones into a water jug to float a piece of food up to the top? New Caledonian crows, rooks, and European jays can figure this out as well – something not shown in humans until the age of seven. That’s not quite fifth grade level, but it may be high enough to consider a new series of the movies called “Planet of the Crows.”
Or at least their own game show.