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Jays and Youngsters Solve Aesop Problem Similarly

Until kids are eight, they are only about equally good as European Jays at solving a problem outlined by Aesop. Sophie Bushwick reports

In an Aesop fable, a thirsty crow wanting to drink from a pitcher must first raise the water level. So he drops pebbles in the container. In real life, the European Jay can perform the same task. But just how smart is it?

Researchers challenged jays and human children with puzzles like the one in the fable. And until kids reached the age of 8 their results were similar to the birds’. The study is in the journal Public Library of Science ONE. [Lucy G. Cheke, Elsa Loissel and Nicola S. Clayton, How Do Children Solve Aesop's Fable?]

For example, in one test, a prize was put in a tube of either water or sawdust. About half the birds took multiple trials to learn that dropping stones into the liquid, but not the dust, lifted the reward up to within reach.

When children between four and seven were faced with the same test, they learned similarly, taking about five trials to realize that the token in the water tube could be retrieved—although they did pick up the task faster than the birds. Older children learned more quickly, and those eight or older solved it the first time they tried. Til then, the kids were, well, birdbrains.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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