Ravens could have the ability of attributing mental states, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

It was proposed that the mysterious animals could present a Theory of Mind, since they appear to protect their food when they hear the sound of other ravens, if a peephole is open. In other words, they can infer the possibility of being seen based on their perceptual experience.

The team of researchers from the University of Houston and the University of Vienna has analyzed the behavior of ravens when they heard sounds. Curiously, they found out that ravens had the ability of protecting their food when they heard the sound of other ravens if a peephole was open, even when the intelligent animals did not actually see another raven. However, if the peephole was closed, ravens didn’t care about guarding their food.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

The Theory of Mind (ToM) investigates how humans attribute mental states to other persons and how we use those states to explain and predict actions of others, according to the Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

What some scientists want to demonstrate is that some animals can also be part of the ToM since they can understand what other see. For instance, when the peephole was closed, the ravens did not worry about protecting their food, because they were probably able to understand that they could not be seen by other birds. However,  the authors wrote that it still remains an open question whether a nonhuman animal can attribute the complex concept  “seeing”, without relying on behavioral cues.

“There are not many other species that demonstrate as much social flexibility. Ravens cooperate well. They can compete well. They maintain long-term, monogamous relationships. This all makes them a good place to look for social cognition, because similar social pressures might have driven the evolution of similarly advanced cognitive capacities in very different species,” said Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston and an author of the paper.

The new findings present a fascinating theory, since the scientific community had previously agreed that what makes us humans is the ability to attribute mental states. According to Cameron Buckner, finding that the Theory of Mind is present in birds would require humans to give up the belief that we are special because of our “unique” mental capabilities. He explained that investigating about ravens and their “mental abilities” will bring us much closer to figuring out what’s really unique about the human mind.

Source: Nature Communications