Ravens, New Caledonian crows and jackdaws parallel great apes in motor self-regulation despite smaller brains

Can Kabadayi, Lucy Taylor, Auguste von Bayern, Mathias Osvath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Overriding motor impulses instigated by salient perceptual stimuli represent a fundamental inhibitory skill. Such motor self-regulation facilitates more rational behaviour, as it brings economy into the bodily interaction with the physical and social world. It also underlies certain complex cognitive processes including decision making. Recently, MacLean et al. (MacLean et al. 2014 Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 2140–2148. (doi:10.1073/pnas.1323533111)) conducted a large-scale study involving 36 species, comparing motor self-regulation across taxa. They concluded that absolute brain size predicts level of performance. The great apes were most successful. Only a few of the species tested were birds. Given birds' small brain size—in absolute terms—yet flexible behaviour, their motor self-regulation calls for closer study. Corvids exhibit some of the largest relative avian brain sizes—although small in absolute measure—as well as the most flexible cognition in the animal kingdom. We therefore tested ravens, New Caledonian crows and jackdaws in the so-called cylinder task. We found performance indistinguishable from that of great apes despite the much smaller brains. We found both absolute and relative brain volume to be a reliable predictor of performance within Aves. The complex cognition of corvids is often likened to that of great apes; our results show further that they share similar fundamental cognitive mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Article number160104
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Apr 20

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Zoology


  • inhibition
  • motor self-regulation
  • corvid cognition
  • self-control
  • avian brains
  • Corvus


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