Claws for thought

Research on animal mental life

source: Emma Young
New Scientist vol 211 no 2819, July 2 2011 starts p40, 4 pages long

Even fruit flies show selective attention, using memory. Bruno van Swinderen from Queensland Brain Institute, Australia, has found out that they explore novel items in preference to familiar ones, and that memory impairment affects their ability to deal with novelty. Memory can help hummingbirds plan for the future using stored information on flower location, and timing of visits. Rats, octopuses and primates also appear to plan.
Crows can show flexible behaviour, using foraging twigs to investigate scary objects, according to Joanna Wimpenny from Alexander Kacelink's centre at Oxford University. One crow could bend wire to remove food from a tube in another location. Corvids also protect stores of food that others may know the location of. This suggests a 'theory of mind'. Chimps, however, do not appear to grasp abstract concepts like force or gravity, and may use inappropriate tools such as floppy objects to reach food. Brain imagery indicates that some animals may be capable of conscious thought, but there is no consensus yet as to whether this is true for non-human animals.