The humble pigeon is far more intelligent than previously thought and can even have abstract thoughts.
Rather than being bird brains, pigeons can understand both space and time, according to a study. Not only can they discriminate these abstract concepts, but researchers found that pigeons seem to use a different region of the brain than humans and primates to do so.
In experiments, pigeons were shown a static horizontal line on a computer screen and had to judge its length or the amount of time it was visible to them. The pigeons judged longer lines to also have longer duration and judged lines longer in duration to also be longer in length.
What that means, according to the researchers, is pigeons use a common area of the brain to judge space and time, suggesting that these abstract concepts are not processed separately.
The finding adds to growing recognition in the scientific community that lower-order animal species — such as birds, reptiles and fish — are capable of high-level, abstract decision-making.
Edward Wasserman, of the University of Iowa, said: “The cognitive prowess of birds is now deemed to be ever closer to that of both human and non-human primates. Those avian nervous systems are capable of far greater achievements than the pejorative term ‘bird brain’ would suggest.”
Professor Wasserman said that humans are able to perceive space and time, even without the aid of inventions such as a watch or a ruler. He said that the region of the brain that helps humans make those abstract concepts more tangible is the parietal cortex — which the pigeon brain does not have.
He said the birds must use another area of the brain, or that perhaps there was a common evolutionary mechanism in the central nervous system shared by early primates and birds.
(Source – The Times)