Crows are among the planet's most intelligent animals, teaching their young to use tools for foraging and banding together to fight off intruders. Now, the first study of how abstract reasoning works in these birds' brains could shed light on how intelligence works in a truly alien, non-mammal brain.
We've studied brain structure pretty extensively in mammals from humans and apes to whales and mice. But German neuroscientists Lena Veit and Andreas Nieder are the first to watch what happens in crow brains as these birds worked their way through a series of brain-teasers. They actually wired the crows' brains up with electrodes, watching as individual neurons fired when the crows did a test that required abstract reasoning. What Veit and Nieder found reveals a lot about what intelligence looks like in a brain that's nothing like our own.
The Evolution of Intelligence
The crow, and some of its relatives in the corvid family (such as jays and magpies), are among the only intelligent species we've encountered outside the world of mammals. But their brains are utterly different from ours. The mammalian seat of reason is in our prefrontal cortex, a thin layer of nerve-riddled tissue on the outside of the front region of our brains. Birds have no prefrontal cortex (PFC). Instead, they have the nidopallium caudolaterale (NCL), which is located toward the middle of their brains.
Written By: Annalee Newitz
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