Ravens, great apes may plan using just experiences, without any active thinking

The study rejects the idea that ravens and great apes have human-like planning capacities

Ravens and great apes can plan without any need of thinking but through prior experiences, say, researchers, challenging a previous study that suggested ravens can plan better than four-year-old children.

The study rejects the idea that ravens and great apes have human-like planning capacities; instead, these planning behaviours and self-control in them can emerge through associative learning.

"Animals can make decisions that lack immediate benefits but that instead may lead to something meaningful in the future," said Johan Lind, Associate Professor at the Stockholm University in Sweden.

Representational image.

Representational image.

"Some researchers have suggested that planning in great apes and ravens develops through thinking, that they simulate future scenarios and make decisions based on such mental simulations.

"Animals are often very efficient in learning from their experiences, and this helps them survive in places that often are hostile and competitive," Lind noted.

For the study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team used computer simulations of previously published studies of great apes and ravens and formulated a new mathematical model of learning in animals, similar to models in artificial intelligence research.

This new learning model was subjected to similar scenarios as the one's ravens and great apes experienced in the planning studies.

The computer simulations showed that the learning model, that is unable to think or simulate future scenarios, was able to learn to plan as well as the animals did in the experiments. This model is also capable of learning self-control.

It can learn to ignore small immediate food rewards to instead choose, for example, a tool that can only be used after a long delay. But after the long delay, the tool can be used to get a large food reward, the researchers stated.

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