Well It Happened…A Cephalopod Has Passed a Cognitive Test Designed For Human Children
Sometimes I hear about the scientific experiments that we as humans are allocating resources to, and I think why. When people don’t have water, and entire countries don’t have enough food, how are we doing experiments to learn why Brazil nuts rise to the top of the bag?
The cephalopod cognitive test, however, does actually uncover some incredible facts about these invertebrates. With one particular test, we get to learn more about our own psychology and self control. Further, we get to learn about the incredible minds that dwell beneath the surface of the ocean – an abyss that we actually know very little about.
What Is A Cephalpod anyways?
A cephalopod is a class of marine animals that includes octopuses, squid, cuttlefish, and nautiluses. Obviously, octopus and squid are the most popular members of this class of animals. However, the name ‘cephalopod’ itself translates literally to “head foot” in Greek. This translation is a reference to the way that a cephalopod’s head connects to its arms.
The cephalopod in this particular test, however, is a cuttlefish.
A cuttlefish is not actually a fish. It’s an intelligent invertebrate and also has the largest brain-to-body ratio of all invertebrates.
How Was The Cephlapod Cognitive Test Carried Out?
The test that has blown researchers away is actually a version of the famous marshmallow experiment. It was designed in the 1970s by researchers at Stanford to test human children and their ability to delay gratification. Versions of the test have also been used to understand the capabilities of parrots, dogs, and primates among other animals.
At some point in their development, humans learn to delay gratification for a reward. Also considered ‘the ability to plan for the future’, the test enables kids to control themselves by delaying eating a yummy marshmallow, knowing that they’ll get a second marshmallow as a reward.
Because of this test, scientist have been able to understand which species need future planning skills to survive. The cuttlefish, however, is different in that it is a solitary creature that doesn’t seem to have a need for these delayed gratification tools.
The researchers essentially designed a new “marshmallow experiment” using cuttlefish treats to measure the self control of the creatures.
What Were They Trying To Learn?
Because cuttlefish can’t be told the rules of engagement, they had to carefully train them for the cephalopods cognitive test. Once the animals were familiarized with the reward structure, scientists learned that they would delay their breakfast of crab meat if they knew that it would result in a later dinner of delicious shrimp.
The team, however, was trying to learn more than just this. They wanted to know if this response to the cephalopod cognitive test was really self-control, or perhaps just an instinctual drive.
To isolate self-control, they took a new approach. The creatures were all places in tanks with two clear sections. Each section had treats behind clear doors. The cuttlefish were trained to recognize three different icons which indicated if a door would open for them.
What they learned was incredible. In the experimental group, the cuttlefish were trained to realize that if they ate the available prawn right away, they’d lose their ability to get a shrimp behind the time-delayed door. One they got the hang of this, the test subjects would exert self-control, and wait for the tasty treat.
In contrast, they tested the control group participants with shrimp behind a door. Without the training on how to access a treat, they’d choose to eat the prawn without waiting. This gave the researchers enough info to tell them that the cuttlefish in the test group were not just following instinct, but actually using cognitive abilities to plan for the future of a yummy treat.
What Does This Study Into Cephalapod Intellegence Mean For Us?
The ability to delay gratification demonstrates cognitive abilities such as future planning. In the past, we didn’t know whether animals that didn’t seem to need future planning skills would possess them.
A cuttlefish spends most of its time camouflaging, sitting and waiting. Then, they have brief periods of foraging. Because of this, they have to break camouflage to find food. Once they’re visible, they’re vulnerable.
The delayed gratification part of this whole study seems to have evolved so the cuttlefish can optimize their time while foraging by waiting to choose better quality food.
All in all, what we can learn from this is that we have so much to learn from animals. We’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the intelligence of all of the beings in the world.
So maybe we should stop exploiting them for food and products, and learn from what they have to teach us.