Young ravens equal grown-up chimps on IQ tests.

Scientific American looks at a new round of tests that ravens as young as 4 months old have passed with flying colors, outwitting adult great apes (almost) in math, following cues, and other intellectual challenges:

In their new work, [Osnabrück University cognitive scientist Simone] Pika and her colleagues turned to a large group of tests that study co-author Esther Herrmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, originally developed in 2007 to investigate cognitive performance in great apes and human children. Herrmann’s method measures general performance across a range of social and physical tasks rather than just one specific aspect of cognitive reasoning, as most prior approaches did.

Physical tests measured the birds’ abilities to track objects in space and to understand numbers. For example, researchers placed a reward under a certain cup and then moved that cup around with several others to see if the ravens could track which one contained the reward. Under the social test umbrella, the researchers measured how well the birds could follow cues given by an experimenter. The human signaled which cup contained a reward by looking or pointing at it, for instance, or showed the ravens how to access a reward and then observed whether they were able to apply what they observed.

The authors repeated the same 33 tasks for each raven at four, eight, 12 and 16 months of age. They were surprised to find that by just four months old, the birds had mastered most tasks—to the point that, almost across the board, the young ravens’ results compared similarly to those of adult chimpanzees and orangutans that Herrmann had previously tested. “We didn’t expect that they’d master these tasks so quickly,” Pika says. She and her colleagues suspect that ravens’ cognitive development must be fast-tracked because they begin interacting more with their ecological and social environment at about four months of age. (Based on earlier studies comparing human performance against that of other apes, Herrmann surmises that children who are 2.5 years old would outperform ravens in social cognition tasks but would be about equal to the birds for most of the physical cognition tests.)

You can read their research here, in Scientific Reports.