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article imageDucklings are capable of abstract thought

By Tim Sandle     Jul 18, 2016 in Science
Oxford - Ducklings, it seems, are capable of abstract thinking. In fascinating new tests, ducklings, after being shown toy blocks, move towards new blocks that are of a similar color or shape to the ones the ducklings were shown previously.
The new research has been exploring a psychological phenomenon called "relational concept learning." This means the ability to identify and retain logical relations between stimuli and apply them to novel stimuli. This is quite rare within the animal world and requires the ability to deal with abstract properties. The fact that this occurs with ducklings has caught the world of biology by surprise.
For the study, researchers from the University of Oxford, U.K., took recently hatched domesticated mallards. The ducklings, within hours of having hatched, were briefly exposed to a pair of objects. The objects were either the same or different in shape or color. Later, when various other objects were shown to the young birds, the ducklings preferred to follow pairs of new objects.
The scientists describe this as a form of "filial imprinting." To achieve this, the brain is required to operate with abstract conceptual reasoning. This is something more often associated with highly intelligent organisms, such as apes (as well as humans.) Perhaps animals process (and appreciate) more of the intricacies in their world than humans have realized.
Discussing the findings with The New York Times, Edward Wasserman, an experimental psychologist at the University of Iowa who independently reviewed the study, said the findings dismiss notions of birds being 'bird brained': "In fact, birds are extremely intelligent and our problem pretty much lies in figuring out how to get them to ‘talk’ to us, or tell us how smart they really are."
The research has been published in the journal Science. The research paper is titled "Ducklings imprint on the relational concept of 'same or different'."
The surprise find has sparked interest on social media. For example, Al Hilwa (‏@AlHilwa) tweeted: "Mind bender: Ducks are capable of abstract thought! (you are never alone with a rubber duck - HHGG)."
More about thinking ducklings, abstract thought, Ducklings, Ducks, Thinking
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