Friday, March 15, 2013

Long-Term Thinking of Cockatoos

The concept of self-control has always been one we humans tend to pride on being uniquely ours. We lump most animals into the category of being subject to instinctual desires, with little in the way of preventing themselves from acting on impulse. The truth, however, is far different and far more interesting.

An experiment was done recently wherein a group of Goffin cockatoos were given a sample of food, with the promise of a greater amount of food later on provided they did not eat the food currently in front of them. Nearly all of the tested bird resisted the food they had currently, even when it was placed directly in their mouths, in favor of the future reward. Such long-term thinking was thought to only have been exhibited in humans, and in fact the data from the cockatoos might suggest performance on par with the average human child.

While it is definitely interesting simply to look at a very intelligent animal, it also brings up much of the anthropocentrism present in the scientific world at large. If we know now that a trait we thought distinctly human turns out not to be, what other potential "human" characteristics are actually some of those shared with numerous other organisms on this planet.

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