Bird brains or brainy birds?

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Crows and jays are just as clever as chimpanzees, argues Dr. Nicola Clayton of Cambridge University, even though these "feathered Einsteins" have very different brains from those of our close relatives. The experimental psychologist will discuss “What Do Crows Know? Implications for the Evolution of Intelligence” as this year’s speaker in Bowling Green State University’s annual J.P. Scott Lecture Series.

Sponsored by the J.P. Scott Center for Neuroscience, Mind and Behavior, the talk will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 1) in 112 Life Sciences Building on the BGSU campus.

According to Clayton, “Questions about the evolution of intelligence have focused on nonhuman primates because of their close evolutionary relationship to humans. However, there is no reason to assume that intelligence is restricted to primates, or that such abilities have evolved only once.

“Indeed, I shall argue that there is good reason to believe that complex mental characteristics have evolved several times, and that the existence of intelligence in different, distantly related lineages must have arisen as a result of convergent evolution in species facing similar social and physical problems.”

Clayton will review evidence of physical and social intelligence in corvids (members of the crow family that includes the ravens, rooks and jays) and argue that intelligence in corvids and primates has evolved through a process of differing brain evolution yet similar mental evolution.

Clayton is a professor of comparative cognition in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Cambridge, and a Fellow of Clare College. She received her undergraduate degree in zoology at the University of Oxford and her doctorate in animal behavior at St. Andrews University.

Her research interests are in animal memory and intelligence, and the questions are informed by an understanding of biology and psychology. For example, she addresses the question of whether animals can plan for the future and what they remember about the past. She is also interested in a number of aspects of social and physical intelligence, such as whether they can differentiate between what they know and what others know. She currently has 127 publications in print.

Founded in 1999, the J.P. Scott Center is a group of faculty, post-doctoral associates, graduate and undergraduate students studying the dynamic relationships between the nervous system and behavior, with an explicit focus on integrating behavioral research with other sub-disciplines of the neurosciences.

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(Posted October 26, 2006)