Clever Corvids: more song calls more problem solving (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Friday, September 15, 2023, 15:17 (314 days ago) @ David Turell
edited by David Turell, Friday, September 15, 2023, 15:30

And bigger brains:

"Complex vocal learning, a critical component of human spoken language, has been assumed to be associated with more-advanced cognitive abilities. Tests of this hypothesis between individuals within a species have been inconclusive and have not been done across species. In this work, we measured an array of cognitive skills—namely, problem-solving, associative and reversal learning, and self-control—across 214 individuals of 23 bird species, including 19 wild-caught songbird species, two domesticated songbird species, and two wild-caught vocal nonlearning species. We found that the greater the vocal learning abilities of a species, the better their problem-solving skills and the relatively larger their brains. These conclusions held when controlling for noncognitive variables and phylogeny. Our results support a hypothesis of shared genetic and cognitive mechanisms between vocal learning, problem-solving, and bigger brains in songbirds.


"Spoken language and problem-solving are often considered to be components of intelligence in humans. An essential and specialized component of spoken language is vocal production learning, or the ability to imitate sounds. Advanced vocal learning has been found in only a handful of taxa, including five mammalian (humans, elephants, cetaceans, pinnipeds, and bats) and three avian (songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds) clades. Interestingly, the vocal learning taxa that display the most complex vocal learning behavior overlap with those long thought to exhibit more-intelligent cognitive capacities [e.g., humans, cetaceans, elephants, corvid songbirds, and parrots], although this has not been quantitatively tested across species."

Comment: human brain evolution with enlargement and then the development of language suggests a parallel to the avian discoveries. More vocalizations carrying information require the presence of a larger, more complex brain. The evolutionary human pattern of a large, very complex brain before language development suggests the same pattern of evolution occurred in birds. This supports my view that speciation includes preparations for future important developments within species lifetime.

Other comments:

"According to a new Science study, songbirds that can fluently imitate sounds they hear have bigger brains and better problem-solving abilities than their less tuneful peers.

"This ability to hear and then mimic complicated sounds, called complex vocal learning, is an important part of human spoken language acquisition that has only been observed in a handful of other species. Scientists have long assumed that it is associated with more advanced cognition. So to test this theory, researchers performed a series of behavioral tests on 214 birds from 23 different species. In one experiment, the birds were evaluated on their ability to remove a lid from a plastic container that held a tasty reward. In another, the birds needed to differentiate between lids of different colors to complete the task. The researchers found that species with more complex vocal learning abilities, such as the tufted titmouse, consistently aced the tests. The hapless mourning dove, meanwhile, was unable to perform the lid-opening task even after more than 50 attempts." (my bold)

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