In what even the researchers admit is a highly artificial experiment:
But perhaps the most impressive finding was that ravens seemed to notice dominance reversals in a foreign group of ravens, although they exhibited less stress than when they heard such calls from their own social community. To be sure that the ravens weren’t just recognising that call because it was an audibly different call, Massen played calls from a different community, which weren’t dominance reversal calls, and saw that the captive ravens were not stressed.
Massen said: “This shows that ravens are able to create a mental representation of relationship dynamics from groups they have never interacted with before, just like us when we watch television. This ability has not even been observed in monkeys yet.”
There are limitations. Alex Thornton of the University of Exeter explained: “The results in this study are no doubt exciting, but it should be recognised that captive ravens were used. Being kept in such close proximity, with only each other, may have influenced the ravens ability to judge each other’s behaviour.”
In addition to showing that ravens have social abilities that were previously only seen in humans, these findings give a clue that raven intelligence may have evolved along with the development of social communities.
“Being intelligent helps the ravens play the politics of their social group, and gain dominance. For example, understanding the rank of members of their group would help ravens know which birds to pick on, which ones to team up with and which ones to steer clear of during their quest for dominance,” Massen said.
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Bird brains and an ID definition of intelligence
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