Why are corvids smarter than other birds

Prof. Dr. Jonas Rose

Research priorities

Prof. Dr. Jonas Rose, Neuronal Basics of Learning, Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology


The goal of cognitive neuroscience is to understand how the brain produces cognitive, intelligent behavior. Traditionally, people and our closest relatives were examined for this purpose. This makes sense because it was assumed that the intelligence of a species can be derived directly from the degree of relationship to humans. This made it clear that no bird could be as clever as any other mammal, for example the sheep, since sheep are more closely related to us than, for example, ravens.

Indeed, birds are dinosaurs and therefore very far from us humans in evolutionary terms. However, this does not mean that birds are incapable of intelligent behavior. On the contrary, crows and parrots outperform most mammals. Therefore we know that cognition has developed in the course of evolution in both the mammalian and the avian lineage - in parallel. This gives us the opportunity to study independently developed and therefore different neurobiological mechanisms of cognition and to compare them between birds and mammals.

My group works mainly with crows (corvids). We train these animals in complex cognitive tasks and then examine the neurophysiological processes involved in solving these tasks. Our work focuses on working memory, attention, but also sequential and episodic memory and categorization. In this work we use modern, multi-channel electrophysiology and measure both the activity of individual neurons and local field potentials in several brain regions at the same time. In this way, we can not only better understand the neural network processes in the bird's brain, but also compare them with data from mammals and thus check the general validity of current models.