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Anim Cogn. 2014 Jul;17(4):859-67. doi: 10.1007/s10071-013-0719-7. Epub 2013 Dec 10.

Western scrub-jays allocate longer observation time to more valuable information.

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Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EB, UK,


When humans mentally reconstruct past events and imagine future scenarios, their subjective experience of mentally time travelling is accompanied by the awareness of doing so. Despite recent popularity of studying episodic memory in animals, such phenomenological consciousness has been extremely difficult to demonstrate without agreed behavioural markers of consciousness in non-linguistic subjects. We presented western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) with a task requiring them to allocate observing time between two peepholes to see food being hidden in either of two compartments, one where observing the hiding location was necessary to later relocate the food, and another where food could easily be found without watching. Jays first separately experienced these consequences of possessing information in each compartment and subsequently, once given a choice, made more looks and spent more time looking into the compartment where information was necessary than into the compartment where it was unnecessary. Thus, the jays can collect information to solve a future problem. Moreover, they can differentiate sources of information according to their potential value and modify behaviour to efficiently collect important, usable information. This is the first evidence of metacognition in a species that passes the behavioural criteria for both retrospective and prospective mental time travel.

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