About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Study reveals birds and children don't learn in the same way

Aesop's Fable: The Crow and the Pitcher

A Crow, half-dead with thirst, came upon a Pitcher which had once been full of water; but when the Crow put its beak into the mouth of the Pitcher he found that only very little water was left in it, and that he could not reach far enough down to get at it. He tried, and he tried, but at last had to give up in despair. 

Then a thought came to him, and he took a pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. 

At last, at last, he saw the water mount up near him, and after casting in a few more pebbles he was able to quench his thirst and save his life.

    Little by little does the trick.

A study has shown that young children and crows can both solve similar tasks, but only the children were able to retrieve the reward when it was a task that defied logic.

The main purpose of the study was to see whether birds and children learn in the same way. Study leader Lucy Cheke, from Cambridge University, said that, based on the results, it seems they don't: the birds were unable to learn when something apparently impossible happened, while children were able to learn about what was happening even if they had no idea how it was happening.

"It is children's job to learn about the world," Cheke says, "and they can't do that when they are limited by a preconceived idea about what is or is not possible. For a child, if it works, it works.

"The children were able to learn what to do to get the reward even if the chain-of-events was apparently impossible. Essentially, they were able to ignore the fact that it shouldn't be happening to concentrate on the fact that it was happening.

"The birds however, found it much harder to learn what was happening because they were put off by the fact that it shouldn't be happening.

"The Aesop's fable paradigm provides an incredibly useful means by which to compare cause-effect learning with understanding of underlying mechanisms.

"We are planning on extending this paradigm to really try to understand what's going on in the heads of adults, children and animals when they deal with problems in the physical world."

Sources:
  1. Lucy G. Cheke, Elsa Loissel, Nicola S. Clayton. How Do Children Solve Aesop's Fable? PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (7): e40574 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040574
  2. Translations of The Crow and the Pitcher by Aesop http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Crow_and_the_Pitcher

No comments: