Magic tricks can help us better understand animal intelligence

orangutan laughs at magic trick screenshot youtube
Orangutan laughing at a magic trick. Credit: Dan Zaleski
[A]s a new Science: Perspectives article points out, it’s not just humans who get fooled by magic tricks. Many species of animals are likewise susceptible to these deceptions, which, as the authors of the article point out, is a good thing, as far as science is concerned. In fact, they’re outright encouraging scientists to use magic as a tool for studying animal thinking, behavior, and perception.

The idea is not as outlandish as it seems. The concept has been gaining traction over the past decade, as scientists increasingly experiment with various magical effects or tricks when working with animals. As noted by the authors, many researchers—whether knowingly or unknowingly—are using magic in the lab, such as the use of boxes with false bottoms when working with dogs and great apes, or the use of transparent string to confound New Caledonian crows with apparent acts of levitation.

Related article:  Have we finally identified humanity's direct ancestor? Controversial claim challenged
Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.

An overarching idea here is that, if a certain magic trick can fool both humans and animals, then we must share something in common in terms of our psychological, cognitive, and perceptual capacities. Such insights can lead to meaningful comparative analyses between humans and animals, but also between closely related nonhuman animal species. In addition to flagging the presence of certain abilities, magical effects can highlight cognitive gaps in the realms of perception, attention, and intelligence.


Read the original post

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Genetics Unzipped
Infographic: Deaths from COVID-19 are far higher than reported estimates

Infographic: Deaths from COVID-19 are far higher than reported estimates

More than 2.8 million people have lost their lives due to the pandemic, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis ...

Gilles-Éric Séralini: Activist professor and face of anti-GMO industry

The French biologist and his research team--funded by the Rodale ...
vandana shiva

Vandana Shiva: ‘Rock Star’ of GMO protest movement has anti-science history

In a 2012 interview, Bill Moyers referred to Vandana Shiva as ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend