Eurasian Jays Read Their Mates' Desires, Much Like Humans

By Sean Kane email: , Feb 04, 2013 10:03 PM EST
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New research suggests that Eurasian Jays might possess the ability to understand and recognize the needs and desires of others, a trait that was often thought to only exist in humans.

Eurasian Jays, part of the family of remarkably intelligent birds that includes blue jays, crows and ravens, are thought to have the potential for "state attribution." Professor Nicola Clayton's Comparative Cognition lab at Cambridge University's Department of Psychology published research in the journal PNAS that may prove that the birds have a "theory of mind," or an understanding of the thoughts and desires of others.

In the study, mating pairs of the birds were separated by gender. The females were then fed a particular larvae, wax moth or mealworm, while their mates watched through a transparent window. When the mating paris were reunited, they were presented with both kinds of food. When faced with the choice, the males chose to feed their mate the larvae that they had not eaten earlier, "a change in diet welcomed by the females." 

Each male needed to see what his mate was eating, and needed to see that was satisfied with a particular type of larvae (known as "specific satiety"), in order to select the desired, different food option.

"Our results raise the possibility that these birds may be capable of ascribing desire to their mates - acknowledging an "internal life" in others like that of their own," said researcher Ljerka Ostojic.

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