A new test of cephalopod smarts has reinforced how important it is for us humans to not underestimate animal intelligence.
Cuttlefish have been put to a new version of the marshmallow test, and the results appear to demonstrate that there’s more going on in their strange little brains than we knew.
Their ability to learn and adapt, the researchers said, could have evolved to give cuttlefish an edge in the cutthroat eat-or-be-eaten marine world they live in.
The marshmallow test, or Stanford marshmallow experiment, is pretty straightforward. A child is placed in a room with a marshmallow. They are told if they can manage not to eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes, they’ll get a second marshmallow, and be allowed to eat both.
This ability to delay gratification demonstrates cognitive abilities such as future planning, and it was originally conducted to study how human cognition develops; specifically, at what age a human is smart enough to delay gratification if it means a better outcome later.
Because it’s so simple, it can be adjusted for animals. Obviously you can’t tell an animal they’ll get a better reward if they wait, but you can train them to understand that better food is coming if they don’t eat the food in front of them straight away.
Last year, cuttlefish also passed a version of the marshmallow test. Scientists showed that common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) can refrain from eating a meal of crab meat in the morning once they have learnt dinner will be something they like much better – shrimp.
Editor’s note: Ia! Cthulhu ftagn!