Dataset Information


Corvid re-caching without 'theory of mind': a model.

ABSTRACT: Scrub jays are thought to use many tactics to protect their caches. For instance, they predominantly bury food far away from conspecifics, and if they must cache while being watched, they often re-cache their worms later, once they are in private. Two explanations have been offered for such observations, and they are intensely debated. First, the birds may reason about their competitors' mental states, with a 'theory of mind'; alternatively, they may apply behavioral rules learned in daily life. Although this second hypothesis is cognitively simpler, it does seem to require a different, ad-hoc behavioral rule for every caching and re-caching pattern exhibited by the birds. Our new theory avoids this drawback by explaining a large variety of patterns as side-effects of stress and the resulting memory errors. Inspired by experimental data, we assume that re-caching is not motivated by a deliberate effort to safeguard specific caches from theft, but by a general desire to cache more. This desire is brought on by stress, which is determined by the presence and dominance of onlookers, and by unsuccessful recovery attempts. We study this theory in two experiments similar to those done with real birds with a kind of 'virtual bird', whose behavior depends on a set of basic assumptions about corvid cognition, and a well-established model of human memory. Our results show that the 'virtual bird' acts as the real birds did; its re-caching reflects whether it has been watched, how dominant its onlooker was, and how close to that onlooker it has cached. This happens even though it cannot attribute mental states, and it has only a single behavioral rule assumed to be previously learned. Thus, our simulations indicate that corvid re-caching can be explained without sophisticated social cognition. Given our specific predictions, our theory can easily be tested empirically.

SUBMITTER: van der Vaart E 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC3291480 | BioStudies | 2012-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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