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Crows Are Smart Enough to Spot Analogies on Their Own

Yet another study has shown that crows can do feats of higher-order thinking — even when they're not trained to do so.

The latest experiment involved a pattern-matching game with hidden mealworms as the reward. First, two crows were trained to pick the card that matched a sample card, and snag the treat beneath the card. Then the experimenters added a new twist: The crows had to choose a card that didn't look exactly like the sample card, but showed the same pattern — for example, two symbols that are the same, or two symbols that are different.

The result, reported Thursday in Current Biology, was that the crows could pick the right card even though they weren't trained to handle the added twist. The researchers say that's a prime example of spontaneous analogical reasoning. "That is the crux of the discovery," University of Iowa psychologist Ed Wasserman said in a news release. "Honestly, if it was only by brute force that the crows showed this learning, then it would have been an impressive result. But this feat was spontaneous."

The finding adds to other evidence of crow know-how, such as the ability to use tools, recognize human faces and tell other crows about the humans they hate.

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— Alan Boyle

In addition to Wasserman, the authors of "Crows Spontaneously Exhibit Analogical Reasoning" include Anna Smirnova, Zoya Zorina and Tanya Obozova, researchers at Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia, where the study was conducted.