Metacognition in Scrub Jays

Scrub Jay in Flight

Scrub Jay in Flight by Lyle Troxell

A common faulty justification for eating and exploiting animals is that humans are so much “smarter” than all other animal species. “Animals are dumb so it’s okay to eat them!” so many meat-eaters proclaim. This of course is absurd; even if it was true, this still doesn’t justify harming animals. Carry this reasoning far enough, and it justifies making meals of humans who are mentally challenged. Besides this, it seldom makes sense to do interspecies intelligence comparisons(it’s difficult enough comparing humans when it comes to intelligence). Each species evolved as intelligent as it needed to be, based on the unique environment it evolved in. Some species are “smarter” or more “talented” at some things than others.

Increasingly, it appears that certain cognitive traits that were once thought to only occur in humans also occur in other species. Metacognition, or “thinking about thinking”, is something humans do on a regular basis. This ability helps us solve problems, philosophize, and plan for the future, among other things.

Recent research reported in Scientific American suggests that a small species of bird called the Scrub Jay may be capable of metacognition. As Watanabe, one of the researchers put it, “some birds study for a test like humans do.” I suggest reading the entire article to understand the experiment they used to arrive at this conclusion.

If this is true, this is yet more evidence that the human mind isn’t so different from other animals after all.

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