A team of scientists points out that certain animals, such as primates, crows and octopuses, also deceive their own species or others.

Birds understand distraction mechanisms.

Magicians can make us see things that are not happening, make objects disappear and move and create illusions, but what they actually do is direct and control our attention mechanisms. “Their deception methodologies are based on our attentional and perceptual instability “, tells SINC Elías García-Pelegrín, Spanish scientist in the Department of Psychology of the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom).

Knowing the fascination that magic generates in people, the team of this researcher decided to check whether animals they would be able to “fall” into the same tricks of magic than humans. If this were so, scientists suggest that we would have not only similar attention mechanisms, but also a similar level of understanding of the world around us and expectations of physical laws.

“If we were used to objects disappearing out of nowhere or levitate, making them disappear or levitate would not impress us much. Studying animals with magic tricks helps us understand the expectation systems they have and how they see the world around them “, adds García-Pelegrín.

In his study, now published in the journal Science, psychologists show that animals with advanced cognition such as the primates, the family of crows and that of the cephalopods (octopus and cuttlefish) already employ distraction and attention control techniques similar to those used by magicians.

“The fact that these intelligent species are capable of using the techniques with others shows that they must be susceptible to them, since if not, the behavior would be of little use”, emphasizes the researcher. According to the expert, being susceptible to the same (or at least similar) attention control techniques that humans normally fall into, suggests that these Animals must have systems of perception and attention analogous to people.

An example of this is the case of the Eurasian jay (Garrulus Galandarius), of the crows family, which hides hazelnuts in the ground to consume them a couple of weeks later. But they have to resort to methods of distracting attention from other jays or squirrels, pretending to hide them in various places so that they are not stolen.

On the other hand, the giant crow (Corvus Corax), which in a natural state coexists with wolves and normally steals their bones and remains of meat, is able to perceive the moments when canids are distracted and thus steal their food.

“These techniques are very interesting at an ecological level, but also at a psychological level, since understanding and being able to imagine the attentional state of another living being (of the same species or another) is a very advanced cognitive ability and part of what is called Theory of mind, a cognitive ability that has been considered as important as standing for human evolution “, emphasizes the researcher.

Better understand humans

This type of study not only shows the Cognitive abilities of animals in certain situations, it also teaches us that animals Humans are not that different. “When we compare the cognitive abilities of any person with another animal, it is usually with the chimpanzee since it is our closest relative. We seldom study how other taxonomically different species such as birds and cephalopods can have cognitive abilities similar to ours ”, says the psychologist.

According to the expert, since the common ancestor of humans and these animals is very distant, it is likely that these abilities have evolved convergently with ours. “The truth is in terms of attention it means we are not much superior to a raven“, Indicates García-Pelegrín. This would not mean that the attentional mechanism is more or less intelligent, “it tells us that it probably occurred due to similar ecological qualities”, he emphasizes.

Thanks to the comparison with animals, this study goes one step further to decipher the complicated human cognitive ability. But not only that. Research shows that other organisms can have human-like experiences with the world.

“For scientists it is a different way of approaching cognition and its experimental methodology, taking ideas not only rooted in theory and in what has already been done, but also drawing inspiration from other subjects that at first glance may seem distant and useless ”, concludes the researcher.