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LostInParadise's avatar

What animals could pass this simple test?

Asked by LostInParadise (24871points) February 21st, 2018

Show the animal a piece of food and then place it in a large box. See if the animal goes to open the box. A second level would be to move the box to a different room and place the animal in the room.

Care would have to be taken to make sure the animal can’t track the food by its scent. Maybe it could be placed in a small transparent airtight container before being placed in the box.

MY guess is that all mammals would pass and at least some birds, but I am not so sure about lizards and fish.

It seems that going to the box to look for the food requires some minimal level of abstraction. The animal has to imagine the food being in the box without being able to directly perceive it.

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13 Answers

SergeantQueen's avatar

Dogs, probably. I mean they can sniff out drugs and bombs, so this is probably easy.
They have super sniffer beaks.

LostInParadise's avatar

Like I said, I am pretty sure mammals in general could pass, and certainly some birds like crows and parrots. Not so sure about chickens, reptiles and fish.

SergeantQueen's avatar

Yes, I’m agreeing with you. I don’t think birds and the other animals could pass.

rojo's avatar

Check out the videos of crows using their problem solving skills opening boxes and figuring out methods of access to various food caches. Lots on YouTube

zenvelo's avatar

This is a lesson in object permanence. An infant could not solve this, it is a marker in human development at around nine months.

A mammal cannot solve this until they have matured a bit.

Not all birds could solve this, but many could, especially corvids. A snake might, but I don’t think a lizard could.

And insects have an amazing ability to find food.

janbb's avatar

@SergeantQueen What’s with the beaks? Are dogs different in your part of the world or are you referring to birds?

Some dogs can be trained to go into a room and retrieve a certain object . I imagine that some could find the food but since they use their scent sense primarily it’s a little hard to imagine.

Birds can find seeds that they’ve hidden the previous season in many different spots but I don’t know what sense or parts of the brain they are using. I do agree with @rojo and @zenvelo that crows could certainly do it. I’ve seen videos of crows performing a series of tasks to get to food at the end.

LostInParadise's avatar

@zenvelo , Thanks for giving the name. I was having trouble getting results from Web searches, but object permanence gives a lot of pages, but there does not seem to be as much work on it as I would have thought.

The question arose from a discussion with someone about whether animals ever act with intentionality. I figured that a minimum requirement for intentionality was to be able to have an abstract concept of what it is that is intended.

gondwanalon's avatar

I’m pretty sure that my cat would have a very hard time logically solving this problem. Even if my cat watched the food go into the box, in his tiny brain the food will be permanately gone when the box is closed.

SergeantQueen's avatar

—My answer should say snout-

Kind of have to think about how the animal is and what it’s been exposed to. A dog may not be able to do it if it’s never been trained to hunt out food. Meaning food has always been provided by humans. They lose that instinct/ability that way. So most animals are either in the wild or were trained could do it I think. But other animals might have a hard time.
So if you trained a chicken to do it, it might work.

Zaku's avatar

Animals have different ways of thinking and relate to situations differently. Humans tend to anthropomorphize animals and situations and also assume that they can judge intelligence based on what animals do or don’t do in contrived experiments. The book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are covers the history of humans thinking about animal intelligence, and describes various types of large-scale mistakes even our experts in this field have made, and what ways of relating to animal intelligence offer clearer understandings.

Imagine a bird or squirrel rating human intelligence by how many seeds and nuts they can hide in the forest and manage to remember where they all are, and how well they’re hidden from discovery by other animals, and concluding we’re highly inferior. Or cats bringing us half-dead mice and birds and being appalled that we don’t appreciate them by playing with them, finishing them off, and eating them.

An animal might or might not be able to figure out “object permanence” this way, but how do you how much is a matter of can/can’t and how much is a matter of don’t care or don’t guess what the human wants them to do or is thinking about something else in some other way that we don’t fathom because we’re not really able to appreciate what it’s like to be each species of animal?

I mean, some teachers expect human children to respond to stupid unrealistic story problems and mark them down when they get well-deserved sarcastic or just different-thinking answers, but that doesn’t mean the child is actually mentally deficient – just that they’re not going along with the contrived assignment, even though they’re human and speak the language. If a giant monster who didn’t speak your language put some dead flesh in a box and moved it to another room and put you there, would your focus be on opening that box to get the food?

LostInParadise's avatar

Your points are well taken, but I think that the test is elementary and can relate to animals in the wild. I would guess that since squirrels can hide and find food, they would pass the test easily. It would certainly benefit a predator not to give up chasing prey when it hides behind a rock.

One skill that animals have that people living in modern society have lost, is the ability to find our way back after wandering around in a forest.

Zaku's avatar

Well sure. One of my cats is crazed about things that scurry under other things, especially under carpets, and will ignore a string or bug until it disappears under the edge of something and go into a sudden diving assault, burrowing under or flipping over rugs. He and other cats I’ve had have also demonstrated going under things to hide. Where’s the cat? Oh, that lump in the bed… [human lifts blankets one at a time] ... nope, cat is under the bedsheet, somehow. Oh, and my cheeto-obsessed cat will knock over my dustbin to get the empty bag of cheetos to snag the last crumbs… though I’m sure he can also smell them… but he also hops on my desk to peer down into the bin to see if it’s worth raiding, even when there’s nothing good in it.

And squirrels? I remember when I was a kid and a friend thought it was brilliant to stash food in the woods near our house, in a hidden niche in a tree. Not only did squirrels find it, they ate through all sorts of sealed packaging. Of course they might have learned anything like a human package is liable to be openable for food. Or they might just be able to smell food even through air-tight packages. But I’d say the concept of something being inside something else is firmly understood.

In all of those cases, the animals cared about the thing by themselves. In some animal intelligence tests, the humans assume the animal will react to an experiment in the way they’re interested in. The book I linked talks about the need to observe and study a species long enough to have a good sense for how they relate to situations first.

As for finding one’s way back, many animals have shown inexplicable ways to find places, even that they’ve never been to before. People also tend to assume that animal cognitive abilities will be inferior to ours, and that we understand the material world and what’s possible or not nearly completely, but there are quite a few animal behaviors that humans don’t know how they work at all, and that seem impossible from our material models of how things work.

Dutchess_III's avatar

LOL!! “They have super sniffer beaks.” That’s going to become part of Fluther lore @SergeantQueen! Congorats!

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