It seems that hardly a week goes by without a new report about animals performing marvelous feats we once thought only humans could do: Crows make tools, chimpanzees seem to mourn their dead, and rats supposedly empathize with one another’s pain. Do these findings suggest close similarities between human and animal minds? Or are there alternative ways of explaining the clever things that animals do, without invoking human-like cognition?
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Elske van der Vaart
Elske van der Vaart is a PhD student at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, where she uses computer models to study the intelligence of corvids. She puts different cognitive assumptions into a kind of ‘virtual bird’, in order to test what kinds of behavior they produce. In this way, she hopes to help empirical scientists interpret the results of their experiments.
James Thom is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge's Comparative Cognition Laboratory, where he studies foresight and decision making in western scrub-jays. Scrub-jays are members of the crow family, corvids, who rely extensively on food stored in the ground. James is seeking to understand what his scrub-jays know of the relationship between storing food and the consumption of that food later on.