Cephalopods successfully pass a cognitive test for children.

These animals are capable of incredible self-control. Cephalopods are brilliant animals on many occasions. In addition to being able to open jars, escape from a closed cage, or solve puzzles, a new study has shown that these animals can also solve tests intended for human children.


According to a study published in the Royal Society B journal Proceedings and carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge, cephalopods – octopus, squid, nautilus and cuttlefish – can pass the marshmallow test. Usually aimed at children, the marshmallow test is a test that assesses delayed gratification, or more simply, the ability to resist the temptation to be rewarded immediately to be awarded later.

For this purpose, scientists give a marshmallow to a child. He is then explained that he will later be rewarded by receiving another treat if he can resist the temptation to eat it.

During the experiment, scientists measure how long each child in the test manages to resist temptation. According to the researchers, the ability not to give in to temptation demonstrates cognitive skills such as planning. More precisely, scientists can measure at what age a human being begins to delay gratification to obtain a better reward later. As for the cephalopods, it is impossible to ask them to wait. Instead, the researchers adapted the test by finding other ways to understand that they will get better food if they can delay eating what was initially given.

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According to the researchers’ findings, cephalopods passed the test brilliantly. “The cuttlefish in the present study were all able to expect the best reward and tolerated delays of up to 50-130 seconds, which is comparable to what we see in large-brained vertebrates such as chimpanzees, crows and parrots,” said Alexandra Schnell, lead author of the study, in a statement. The experience didn’t end with testing the marshmallow. The researchers also wanted to try the learning ability of the six cuttlefish.

To this end, two various visual clues – a gray square and a white square – were shown to the cephalopods. As they approached one, the other was withdrawn; and if they made the right choice, they were rewarded with a snack. Once the cuttlefish learned to associate a square with a reward, the researchers changed the signals so that the other court was the reward source. It was found that the cuttlefish that learned to adapt to this change the fastest were the ones that passed the marshmallow test the best. According to scientists, this demonstrates a certain level of self-control in cephalopods.

While this finding is exciting, it raises many questions, especially why cephalopods have such a capacity. In other species capable of similar mastery, this is linked to factors such as tool use, making food hiding places, or some social skills such as sharing food. As far as is known, cephalopods do not use any of these factors. Further research will thus be carried out to understand better the ability to plan in cephalopods.

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