Social context hinders humans but not ravens in a short-term memory task

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Using resources shared within a social group – either in a cooperative or a competitive way - requires keeping track of own and others’ actions, which, in turn, requires well-developed short-term memory. Although short-term memory has been tested in social mammal species, little is known about this capacity in highly social birds, such as ravens. We compared ravens (Corvus corax) with humans in spatial tasks based on caching, which required short-term memory of one’s own and of others’ actions. Human short-term memory has been most extensively tested of all social mammal species, hence providing an informative benchmark for the ravens. A recent study on another corvid species (Corvus corone) suggests their capacity to be similar to the humans’, but short-term memory skills have, to date, not been compared in a social setting. We used spatial set-ups based on caches of foods or objects, divided into individual and social conditions with two different spatial arrangements of caches (in a row or a 3x3 matrix). In each trial, a set of three up to nine caches was presented to an individual that was thereafter allowed to retrieve all items. Humans performed better on average across trials, but their performance dropped, when they had to keep track of partner’s actions. This differed in ravens, as keeping track of such actions did not impair their performance. However, both humans and ravens demonstrated more memory-related mistakes in the social than in the individual conditions. Therefore, whereas both the ravens’ and the humans’ memory suffered in the social conditions, the ravens seemed to deal better with the demands of these conditions. The social conditions had a competitive element, and one might speculate that ravens’ memory strategies are more attuned to such situations, in particular in caching contexts, than is the case for humans.
Sidor (från-till)125-139
Antal sidor15
Tidigt onlinedatum2019 okt. 10
StatusPublished - 2020 feb.

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Etologi


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