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PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e26887. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026887. Epub 2011 Dec 14.

New Caledonian crows learn the functional properties of novel tool types.

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Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.


New Caledonian crows were presented with Bird and Emery's (2009a) Aesop's fable paradigm, which requires stones to be dropped into a water-filled tube to bring floating food within reach. The crows did not spontaneously use stones as tools, but quickly learned to do so, and to choose objects and materials with functional properties. Some crows discarded both inefficient and non-functional objects before observing their effects on the water level. Interestingly, the crows did not learn to discriminate between functional and non-functional objects and materials when there was an arbitrary, rather than causal, link between object and reward. This finding suggests that the crows' performances were not based on associative learning alone. That is, learning was not guided solely by the covariation rate between stimuli and outcomes or the conditioned reinforcement properties acquired by functional objects. Our results, therefore, show that New Caledonian crows can process causal information not only when it is linked to sticks and stick-like tools but also when it concerns the functional properties of novel types of tool.

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