Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ravens alleged to be mindreaders

A Nature mag research paper reports:
Recent studies purported to demonstrate that chimpanzees, monkeys and corvids possess a basic Theory of Mind, the ability to attribute mental states like seeing to others. However, these studies remain controversial because they share a common confound: the conspecific’s line of gaze, which could serve as an associative cue. ... Our results suggest that ravens can generalize from their own perceptual experience to infer the possibility of being seen. These findings confirm and unite previous work, providing strong evidence that ravens are more than mere behaviour-readers.
So the ravens behave differently when they are watched by other ravens, and also when there is an empty peephole. The empty peephole is supposed to fool the ravens into thinking that there is a possibility of being watching, even tho there appears to be no one watching.

This is supposed to convince us that ravens are smart enuf to know what other ravens are thinking, even if they are not smart enuf to know that a raven has to look thru a peephole in order to see thru it.

The ravens were raised in zoos, and had to be trained by humans to understand the significance of peepholes.

I dunno about this. It appears to me that they just trained some ravens to watch out for peepholes. The ravens are reacting to peepholes, not to the minds of other ravens.

I am very skeptical about all these Theory of Mind results, even in people. Attempts to demonstrate it in animals are very weak.

(Before I get racist comments -- ravens are birds, and not a metaphor for anything else.)

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