Western scrub-jays anticipate future needs independently of their current motivational state

Curr Biol. 2007 May 15;17(10):856-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.03.063. Epub 2007 Apr 26.


Planning for the future has been considered to be a uniquely human trait [1-3]. However, recent studies challenge this hypothesis by showing that food-caching Western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) can relate their previous experience as thieves to the possibility of future cache theft by another bird [4], are sensitive to the state of their caches at recovery ([5] and S. De Kort, S.P.C.C., D. Alexis, A.D., and N.S.C., unpublished data), and can plan for tomorrow's breakfast [6]. Although these results suggest that scrub-jays are capable of future planning, the degree to which these birds act independently of their current motivational state is a matter of contention. The Bischof-Köhler hypothesis [1] holds that nonhuman animals cannot anticipate and act toward the satisfaction of a future need not currently experienced or cued by their present motivational state. Using specific satiety to control for the jays' current and future motivational states, here we specifically test this hypothesis by dissociating current and future motivational states. We report that Western scrub-jays anticipate the recovery of their caches, as well as their own future needs, by acting independently of their current motivational state and immediate needs. The fact that the birds act in favor of a future need as opposed to the current one challenges the hypothesis that this ability is unique to humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetite
  • Cues
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Passeriformes / physiology*
  • Time Perception*