Harvard study shows that Harvard kids are dumber than a grey parrot

Researchers at Harvard recently conducted an odd experiment in visual memory. They selected 21 Harvard undergrads and 21 6- to 8-year-old children, and pitted them all against an African grey parrot in an elaborate version of a shell game:

Tiny colored pom-poms were covered with cups and then shuffled, so participants had to track which object was under which cup. The experimenter then showed them a pom-pom that matched one of the same color hidden under one of the cups and asked them to point at the cup. (Griffin, of course, used his beak to point.) The participants were tested on tracking two, three, and four different-colored pom-poms. The position of the cups were swapped zero to four times for each of those combinations. Griffin and the students did 120 trials; the children did 36.

The game tests the brain’s ability to retain memory of items that are no longer in view, and then updating when faced with new information, like a change in location. This cognitive system is known as visual working memory and is the one of the foundations for intelligent behavior.

As the Harvard Gazette reports, Griffin the parrot kicked the all the little kids' asses, and "performed either as well as or slightly better" than the Harvard students in 12 of the 14 trial types.

Take from that what you will.

When a bird brain tops Harvard students on a test [Juan Siliezar / The Harvard Gazette] Read the rest

Paris zoo opens a new exhibit with an immortal mutant slime mold called "The Blob"

The blob has no mouth, but I must scream.

To be fair, it doesn't a stomach, or eyes, or feet, or anything resembling a brain, either (at least as far as modern science would define it). It's not technically a fungus, or an animal, or a planet. It is, quite simply, an incomprehensibly bizarre yellow slime mold that's also alive, and at least somewhat-sentient. Even its official scientific classification, physarum polycephalum, literally translates to "many-headed slime."

And now it's held captive and displayed at the Zoo de Paris, starting October 19.

Did I mention that this blob has some kind of intelligence, or at least the ability to remember things, and absorb knowledge from other slime mold blobs that it consumes? And that it's capable of moving independently, squishing along at a limbless rate of about 1.6 inches per hour? It also has 720 different sex organs, and will heal in two minutes if you cut it in half.

It also, apparently, loves the taste of oatmeal, as well as Acacia trees, oak bark, and chestnut bark. So um, at least it's probably not going to eat us when it ultimately escapes and seeks its revenge for being caged and mocked by us lowly humans? Maybe. If we're lucky.

From EuroNews:

"The 'blob' is a living being that is [one] of nature's mysteries. We don't really know what it is," director of the Paris Museum of Natural History, Bruno David, said, adding that it lives and grows in damp forest undergrowth away from the light.

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Which are smarter, cats or dogs? New study gives us the answer

Ever wonder which are smarter, cats or dogs? You can teach dogs to sit, roll over, play dead, etc, which cats don't do on command. But hey, my cats can knock over water glasses and steal food off a plate when no one is looking – that oughta count for some kinds of smarts. Maybe they're just too "stubborn" to learn tricks because they're too clever to take orders from humans.

Wishful thinking. The verdict is in, and cats are stupider than dogs.

In the first study of its kind, researchers at Vanderbilt looked at the brains of animals, including cats, dogs, ferrets, mongooses (mongeese?), raccoons, hyenas, lions and brown bears. Specifically, they looked at "the number of neurons in their cerebral cortex: the 'little gray cells' associated with thinking, planning and complex behavior — all considered hallmarks of intelligence," according to Vanderbilt.

As far as dogs and cats go, the study found that dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats have about 250 million. (That compares to 16 billion in the human brain.)

“I believe the absolute number of neurons an animal has, especially in the cerebral cortex, determines the richness of their internal mental state and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience,” [Associate Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences Suzana] Herculano-Houzel explained.

“I’m 100 percent a dog person,” she added, “but, with that disclaimer, our findings mean to me that dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can.

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Cuttlefish can count to five

Cuttlefish have an intuitive understanding of quantity are able to discern between close numbers like four and five. Here's how scientists made the finding: Read the rest

Goats cleverer than thought

"Goats learn how to solve complicated tasks quickly and can recall how to perform them for at least 10 months, which might explain their remarkable ability to adapt to harsh environments." Read the rest