Ducks can have abstract thoughts, according to an animal behavioral study. They are able to deal with abstract concepts, such as patterns that are “the same” or “different”.
Ducks learn fast, especially when it comes to emulating their mother’s behavior and traits. This process is called “imprinting.” Researchers concluded that the newly hatched ducklings do more than they initially thought they could.
In some ways, imprinting looks simple. But it is very complex because mother duck has a very complex skill set. Young ducks somehow recognized the identity of their mother, something human babies can only do once they reach the age of 7 months.
The scientist showed a pair of objects to the newborn ducklings. These objects either had the same color and different shapes, or had the same shape, but a different color. When the ducklings were shown other pairs of objects later, they followed the pattern they established before.
According to researchers, the ducklings were imprinting on the concepts of “the same” and “different”, rather than a specific color or shape. In short, they exhibited abstracting abilities. It turned out that ducklings outperform human babies, who cannot distinguish between same and different, unless they are at least seven months old, and see four pairs of objects.
The study is important from three points of view. First of all, it shows that animals are capable of abstract thought, even though they are not believed to be very intelligent. Secondly, even young animals can show behavioral signs of thinking abstractly. Thirdly, these results were possible without reward and punishment procedures.
So far, the brain’s power of dealing with abstract properties has only been demonstrated in animals with advanced intelligence, after extensive training.
Another conclusion of the study was that we’ve overestimated how important abstract concepts are to intelligence. We are used to making assumptions on which cognitive abilities are more or less complex than others, but we don’t actually know much about the mechanisms that trigger them.
Now, scientists can better understand human relationships. As both humans and birds can generalize abstract notions quickly, how does this link to the ability to learn relationships? This is the next big question that scientists will have to answer.
Image Source – Pexels