Pea plants are intelligent organisms, recent research suggests. They may not possess a brain as dense and complex as ours, but they have a quality that can make all the difference to the survival of any species, judgment.

This does not refer to the act of criticizing others’ imperfections as an imperfect being oneself, but rather the evolutionary characteristic to be able to assess risks, to make decisions that favor sustainability.

The idea behind the experiment was how much effort would the plants have to allocate to grow roots in each jar. Image Credit: Phys
The idea behind the experiment was how much effort would the plants have to allocate to grow roots in each jar. Image Credit: Phys

In a joint study conducted by Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University and researchers from Tel-Hai College, numerous pea plants were grown with their roots separated between two pots.

During the first test, the researchers noticed the plant would grow roots in the pot that contained more nutrients, just as an animal would exert more time and energy in an area rich in food and water.

Then, the researchers split the roots of the plants between two pots containing the same average nutrient levels. However, the one was more constant, and the other tended to vary over time. Kacelink and his team were interested to see how the plants would react, which pot would they choose?

Introducing the ‘sensitive risk theory’

The researchers based their hypotheses on theoretical analyses, such as “sensitive risk theory”, which allowed them to analyze what decision animals and humans would most probably make as a response to such circumstances. They predicted that when nutrient levels were low, the pea plants would choose to grow roots in the more inconsistent pot, due to the fact that there would not be much to lose but there could potentially be more to gain.

The research was likened to a game show where a contestant would be more likely to gamble, say, $500 that he/she has already won in the hopes of possibly doubling that amount. The logic is that when there is more to gain than to lose, chances are the decision-maker will opt to take the risk.

On the contrary, when nutrient levels were high, researchers expected the plants to choose the more consistent pot because what they could potentially lose would be greater than what they could gain. Just as in the game show, when a contestant has won $20 000, they may be more reluctant to risk all of that for an answer they may not even be accurate. Thus, in circumstances where there is more to lose than gain, decision-makers are more likely not to take the risk.

The aim of the study was not to suggest that pea plants are the next human beings, but rather that even species of a less complex composition possess the ability to assess risks for their survival.

Although any casino would tell you that human beings do not always make the soundest decisions, this study shows that when unfavorable circumstances are presented to any organism with the ability to judge, chances are they will make the decision that best benefits their sustainability.

Source: Tech Times