It’s no secret crows are smart. They’re notorious for frustrating attempts to keep them from tearing into garbage cans; more telling, however, is that they are one of the few animals known to make tools.
But would you believe doing it actually makes them happy?
That’s the finding of a recent paper, co-authored by Dakota McCoy, a graduate student working in the lab of David Haig, George Putnam Professor of Biology, who found that crows behaved more optimistically after using tools. The study is described in an Aug. 19 paper in Current Biology.
“What this suggests is that, just the same way we enjoy something like solving a crossword, they actually enjoyed simply using a tool,” McCoy said. “I think it suggests there’s a lot more going on in that little head than we think. They get satisfaction out of doing things they’re good at, have trained for their whole lives, and that they use frequently.”
While tool use in the animal kingdom is not unheard of — chimps use sticks to “fish” for termites and other animals use rocks to smash open nuts or shells — New Caledonian crows stand out for manufacturing multiple complex tools and regularly refining their designs.
But how can making and using tools make an animal feel good? A clue, McCoy said, lies in looking at how complex actions make humans feel.
“I think we tend to under-anthropomorphize animals, especially really intelligent animals,” she said. “It’s not that they are machines, and we are feeling beings. Clearly, animals also have emotional reactions and moods.”