Jun 22, 2023

Scientists Find Crows Are Capable of Recursion — A Cognitive Ability Thought to Be Unique to Humans and Other Primates

Posted by in category: neuroscience

According to a new study, crows possess the cognitive ability for one of the linguistic elements that make human language so complex.

In the early 2000s, Noam Chomsky and other linguists thought that if there was one thing that belonged specifically to human language, it was recursion, and that this was what distinguished human language from animal communication. As it turns out, this is not the case: a 2020 study proved that rhesus monkeys can do the thing too, and a newly published study shows that crows can also do recursion.

OK, so what’s recursion? It’s the capacity to recognize paired elements in larger sequences – something that has been claimed as one of the key features of human symbolic competence. Consider this example: “The rat the cat chased ran.” Although the phrase is a bit confusing, adult humans easily get that it was the rat that ran and the cat that chased. Recursion is exactly this: pairing the elements “rat” to “ran” and “cat” to “chased”.

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