Cephalopods can only look like a squiggly blob of rubber tent classes, but there is ample evidence to show that this strange creature has incredible cognitive abilities. Done, somewhat like a cephalopod “marshmallow-test”. As published in the Royal Society’s Open Science Journal earlier this month, two scientists at Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University learned that more food is not always the best choice.
The optimal foraging theory explains that any animal that seeks food will adopt a strategy that provides the most energy for the least expense. Given the choice, you would expect an animal to always choose two easy snacks in one. However, as these cuttlefish are seen, some animals can apply more complex techniques that are not strictly managed by the utility, but with the ability of other brains to make decisions.
To understand how cuttlefish decides when to cut wounds, the researchers placed a few small cephalopods in a “training session” where they could choose one of two rooms: one with a shrimp and the other empty. Obviously, the cuttlefish most often went towards the chamber containing a shrimp at first. If the cuttlefish chose one shrimp, they were not fed the shrimp within the chamber and only received a tiny shrimp as a reward. According to the researchers, this “priming raises the ‘value’ of one shrimp significantly,” effectively drilling it into their heads that a one-shrimp chamber was a safe bet.
In the second stage of the experiment, the cuttlefish was seen to choose between one shrimp and two chambers. The cuttlefish did not cut in the “training phase” as you would expect, however, trainees were more likely to choose a single shrimp or two based on their previous experience that tends to provide this choice even if it is not immediately visible.
Effectively, the researchers manipulated the cuttlefish to choose one shrimp as a choice between one and two shrimps. It doesn’t sound like much too intelligent people like you, but researchers argue that it shows some complex “value-based decision making”. Cattle fish forearms are not governed by simple means – “more food = better” – but a relative value perception and judgment based on their recent experience.
As the New York Times noted, the new study bears some resemblance to the “Stanford Marshmallow-experiment”, a classic psychological experiment first performed in the 1950s, where children waited to see if they were given a choice of instant prizes or two prizes, for some time.
Despite some similarities to this cuttlefish study, there are significant differences, such as the animal not using self-control or “thinking of the future”, but only strong learning. Nevertheless, scientists have previously suggested the idea of running a satiety survey on cephalopods, including delayed cut catfish. Whether or not this ocean brain is ready for the fancy work remains unanswered for the time being.