Not only humans, but also birds have episodic memory

About the episode

We humans can travel through time mentally. This means that we can remember things even if we are not really paying attention to them at the time. Some scientists believe that this episodic memory is unique in the animal world. Only humans can do that.

But now, a jay, you know: that beige bird with a bright blue streak on its wing, is proving we’re definitely not the only ones. How the researchers found out: They conducted a memory experiment with seven of these birds.

The desired snack was placed under one of four identical cups. If they chose the correct cup, they received a reward. After a while they learned that they had to pay attention to the position of the cup in the class.

But when they got used to it, the experience suddenly changed. All the cups look different now. The birds watched the food being placed under one of the cups.

Then put the birds aside for 10 minutes. While the cups were changed in places out of their sight. Even though the snack cup was no longer in the same place, the birds were able to choose the correct cup in 70 percent of the cases.

Based on the optical properties of the cup. Whereas at the time they saw the cups, they did not yet know that this was relevant information. Researchers say this suggests that the jay also has a type of episodic memory. In follow-up research, they want to know if this also works when no food is eaten.

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Read more about the research here: Eurasian jays can use “mental time travel” like humans

Megan Vasquez

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