|Crows and children both solve Aesop's puzzle||
Crows are almost as adept at children at solving a puzzle described by Aesop in which stones are used to retrieve a treat from a glass of water, a study shows.
In Aesop's fable, a thirsty crow learns that by dropping stones into a half-empty pitcher, he can raise the water level high enough t bring the liquid within reach of his beak.
Now a similar study has shown that young children and crows can both solve a similar task, but only the children were able to retrieve the reward when it was made more complicated.
The study, published in the PLoS ONE journal, illustrates how humans think differently to birds and learn to understand the relationship between cause and effect, researchers said.
Researchers from Cambridge University recruited a group of 80 children aged four to 10, and set them a series of three tasks which had been carried out by Eurasian Jays, members of the crow family, in a separate study.
In the first task the children were presented with two tubes containing an out-of-reach reward – one lying among sawdust and one floating in water – and some sinking objects which they could insert into the tubes.
Dropping objects into the water-filled tube would bring the prize closer, while doing so with the sawdust-filled tube would not.
In the second, there was just one water-filled tube but the children were given a wider range of objects, some of which would sink and raise the water level, and some of which would simply float.
In both tasks children aged seven and younger performed at the same level as the birds, learning to retrieve the reward after five tries. Only from the age of eight were they able to succeed on their first try.
A final task, involving a U-shaped tube and another tube standing together in an opaque base, separated the children from the birds. The prize was in one half of the U-shaped tube, which was too narrow for objects to be inserted.
Only by dropping objects in the wider half of the U-shaped tube could the children bring the prize within reach, but to do so would be counterintuitive because the join between the tubes could not be seen.
The birds failed to complete the task but the children learned that dropping the object into one tube would cause the water level in another to rise.
Researchers said this could be a result of the fact that children are taught to use devices with hidden mechanisms, such as light switches, to produce an effect without needing to understand how it works.
Lucy Cheke, who led the study, said: "It is children’s job to learn about new cause and effect relationships without being limited by ideas of what is or is not possible.
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.”
(Source: Daily Telegraph)
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