Monday, February 26, 2007

Planning for the future is not uniquely human, Scrub Jays do it!

It is commonly believed that planning for the future is a skill unique to humans. Raby and colleagues now present experiments with western scrub-jays that show that these birds plan for the future by preferentially caching food where it will be needed most.

From the Editor's summary: "There is much debate as to whether animals can travel mentally in time, to plan for the future in anticipation of an expected need. It is difficult to prove that an animal's actions are a result of such time-shifting but work on a bird, the western scrub-jay, seems to have done exactly that. The two protocols, the 'planning for breakfast' and 'breakfast choice' experiments, show that jays can provide for a future need, both by preferentially caching food in a place in which they have learned that they will be hungry the next morning, and by differentially storing a particular food in a place where it will not be available next day. The results suggest that the birds spontaneously plan for tomorrow without reference to their current motivational state."

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