Boffins show Corvids sleight of hand, think they’re smarter than people • The Register


Psychology experts at the University of Cambridge have pushed down the barriers of understanding through the unlikely practice of trying to trick birds with magic tricks.

The team of scientists from one of Britain’s most august learning headquarters have decided to embark on this project in order to test whether the birds – six Eurasian jays, formally known as Garrulus glandarius, who are chatty, strikingly colored birds of the Corvid family – perceived towers the same way humans do, or their understanding of the world was fundamentally different.

The same tricks were also shown to 80 human participants to compare the reactions between the two groups.

Eurasian jays were chosen because they display techniques in nature that require a certain amount of misdirection, which means the concept is not entirely foreign to them. Like squirrels, corvids – the family that includes crows, crows, jackdaws, magpies, and jays – are known to store food for later consumption, a technique known as caching. However, if another bird is observing them, they can pretend to put the food in several different places to reduce the chances of their rival nipping them.

The team showed the two test groups three different sleight of hand that wizards use to make objects appear and disappear: kicking, where a magician hides an object in his hand pretending it is empty; French gout, where the magician pretends to move an object from one hand to the other, while actually keeping it in the same hand; and the Quick Pass, where the magician moves an object between their hands so quickly that the audience doesn’t see it (as seen in the tweet below).

From the test results, jays are actually very hard to fool with this kind of nonsense, apparently because the fact that they have no hands and have no preconceptions of how they work. means that they have no presumption about what happens to the objects supposed to circulate.

While the easily fooled human subjects were consistently fooled by the three turns, the much smarter jays saw through the first two – palming and the French drop – because they apparently didn’t pay attention to the turn at all and just expected the tasty worm involved to still be where it was when they last saw it.

However, they turned out to be susceptible to being fooled by the quick pass. This is strange because jays, like many birds, process visual information much faster than humans and therefore are able to pick up details that humans might miss.

Elias Garcia-Pelegrin, researcher in comparative cognition and evolutionary psychology at the University of Cambridge, said The Reg: “As the trick relies on rapid movements … one would assume that the birds would see through. We hypothesized that in this case, the success of the effect was most likely based on a blind spot of attention rather than the bird’s inability to see the worm.

“When the same movements are performed slower or more exaggerated, then the bird has no problem following,” he added, before suggesting that confirmation would require “further evidence.” Although we at The Reg feeling like doing this too often can cause the bird to feel condescending and become sarcastic.

Garcia-Pelegrin is himself a magician and claims that he “did magic shows to pay for beers during his undergraduate studies”. He was one of two department staff illusionists who performed the tricks of the experiment, the other being his colleague Professor Clive Wilkins, Artist in Residence in the Department of Psychology and a member of the Magic Circle.

Having established that birds, or at least Eurasian jays, would not be ideal landmarks for aspiring conjurers, Garcia-Pelegrin has not ruled out using his talents to try to annoy more animals in the name of science. .

“The more different visual systems I can use, the better. That would then offer good comparisons, ”he said.

Suggestions that he might try teaching a crow to croak a woman in half were met with less than enthusiastic enthusiasm. ®

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