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Chickens are more egghead than birdbrain

Chickens are more egghead than birdbrain

For too long, the chicken has languished at the bottom of the avian intelligence pecking order. No longer!

According to researchers, the hen, far from being a bird brain, is actually an egghead with a capacity for mathematical reasoning, an ability to empathize and a sophisticated theory of mind.

“The domesticated chicken is something of a phenomenon,” said Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University, and the head of a study sponsored by the Happy Egg Company. “Studies over the past 20 years have revealed their finely honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead.”

She cites, among other evidence, the animal’s ability to distinguish between numbers up to five and a familiarity with transitive inference — the idea in logic that, if A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then A is greater than C.

In the chicken’s case, this has been shown to manifest itself in the time-saving skill of determining that if Henrietta the chicken has already beaten you up, and Henrietta has herself lost a fight to Barbara, then there is no point in challenging Barbara for access to the grain bowl.

Actually, in the area of mathematical reasoning at least, science is only now catching up with what Las Vegas has known for years. Ginger the chicken, who roamed The Strip in the early part of this century, has been described as a “chicken extraordinaire” (as opposed to chicken supreme). Certainly for casinos the title was merited by her revenue-earning abilities alone, because Ginger could play tic tac toe and, when allowed to go first, consistently won — as much as $10,000 a pop. Admittedly, going first is a significant advantage in the game but, then again, so is not being a chicken.

Why has it taken so long to discover the chicken’s rich internal life? The American philosopher Thomas Nagel — most chickens will doubtless already be familiar with his work — once posed the question: “What is it like to be a bat?” He argued that it is impossible for a human to know the mind of a bat. As with flying mammals, so with less competently flying birds. Because, argues Nicol, we need “to ensure that all tests take full account of the differing sensory worlds of humans and chickens.”

And what a different world it is. Wittgenstein, another philosopher favoured by the more recherche chickens, said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

So it is that chickens’ surprisingly sophisticated language gives a clue to their understanding of the world. They can give alarm calls when predators are nearby, and moderate those calls based on the size of their chicks. They can display distressed vocalizations when their chick is attacked by puffs of air (one of the more esoteric experiments cited). Cockerels, meanwhile, offer up more courtship vocalizations when presented with a hen, rather than another cockerel. The report was welcomed within the chicken cognition community.

Siobhan Abeyesinghe this year published a seminal study Do Hens Have Friends? (Its conclusion: no).

“Chickens certainly have more capabilities than people are aware of,” she said. “I do think they are unjustly maligned. It suits us to do so because we have something invested in farming them in large numbers. We have this psychological shielding to devalue animals we use for meat so we feel less concern about them.

“Work like this is great to make us stop and think: yes, chickens are smarter than we thought, but also we should use that information to enrich their environment in a biologically relevant way and think about welfare implications.”

It is a measure of the effect that Nicol believes her study on chicken cognition will have that she feels the need to start it with a caveat. “Chickens,” she laments, “may not be about to make a significant mathematical, scientific or literary contribution to the world.”

But a minor contribution? She does not rule it out. “On the other hand,” she concedes, “we shouldn’t go too far. No chicken,” she points out, “has yet written a review of human intelligence.”

Source: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/Chickens+more+egghead+than+birdbrain/8549873/story.html#ixzz2WlPEqCIO

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Chickens ‘cleverer than toddlers’

Chickens may be brighter than young children in numeracy and basic skills, according to a new study.

Hens are capable of mathematical reasoning and logic, including numeracy, self-control and even basic structural engineering, following research.

Traits such as these are normally only shown in children above the age of four, but the domesticated birds have an ability to empathise, a sophisticated theory of mind and plan ahead.

“The domesticated chicken is something of a phenomenon,” Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University, and the head of a study sponsored by the Happy Egg Company.

She told The Times: “Studies over the past 20 years have revealed their finely honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead.”

In her study ‘The Intelligent Hen’, Ms Nicol explains the animal is capable of distinguishing numbers up to five and is familiar with transitive inference – the idea in logic that, if A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then A is greater than C.

For a chicken, this could be applied to fighting. If the first chicken beat the second, who had already beaten the third, the third chicken would assume that the first chicken would beat them too.

The birds also have an understanding of physics, which was shown in experiments where they showed more interest in realistic diagrams than those that defied the laws of physics.

Young chicks knew that an object that moves out of their sight still exists, unlike human babies who only develop those skills aged one.

Chickens also showed the ability to plan ahead and exhibit self-control, with 93% of hens understanding that if they waited longer to start eating food, they would be allowed access to it for longer.

Further evidence of hens’ intelligence comes from tests showing that at just two weeks’ old, they can navigate using the sun by taking into account its height and position during the day.

Siobhan Abeyesinghe, who this year published a seminal study Do Hens Have Friends?, told the newspaper: “Chickens certainly have more capabilities than people are aware of. I do think they are unjustly maligned.

“We have this psychological shielding to devalue animals we use for meat so we feel less concern about them.”

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10129124/Chickens-cleverer-than-toddlers.html

Are chickens really bird brains?

“It is now clear that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates.” Dr. Lesley Rogers, Professor of Zoology at University of New England, Australia, Rogers LJ, The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken (Wallingford, Oxon, U.K.: CABI Publishing, 1995, p. 217).

“Chickens exist in stable social groups. They can recognize each other by their facial features. They have 24 distinct cries that communicate a wealth  of information to one other, including separate alarm calls depending on whether  a predator is traveling by land or sea. They are good at solving problems. As a trick at conferences I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning  chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys.” Dr. Chris Evans, Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University, Australia.

Feature Story Image“Contrary to what one may hear from the industry, chickens are not mindless, simple automata but are complex behaviorally, do quite well in learning, show a rich social organization, and have a diverse repertoire of calls. Anyone who has kept barnyard chickens also recognizes their significant differences in personality.” Dr. Bernard Rollin, Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.
“Perhaps most persuasive is the chicken’s intriguing ability to understand that an object, when taken away and hidden, nevertheless continues to exist. This is beyond the capacity of small children.” Grimes W, “If Chickens Are So Smart, Why Aren’t They Eating Us?” New York Times, January 12, 2003.

“Chickens show sophisticated social behavior….That’s what a pecking order is all about. They can recognize more than a hundred other chickens and remember them. They have more than thirty types of vocalizations.’” Dr. Joy Mench, Professor of Animal Science at University of California at Davis.

“‘They may be bird brains, but we need to redefine what we mean by bird brains. Chickens have shown us they can do things people didn’t think they could do. There are hidden depths to chickens, definitely.’” Dr. Christine Nicol, Professor of Veterinary Science at Bristol University, England.

Source: http://www.mychickensandme.com/2013/03/chicken-intelligence/