University of Cambridge > > Madingley Lunchtime Seminars > Desire-state attribution in non-human animals: insights from Eurasian jay food-sharing behaviour

Desire-state attribution in non-human animals: insights from Eurasian jay food-sharing behaviour

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State attribution is the ability to ascribe to others an internal life like one’s own. Despite extensive research, comparative studies struggle to adequately integrate key factors of state-attribution that have been identified by evolutionary and developmental psychology as well as research on empathy. Over the last five years, we have developed a novel behavioural paradigm to address these issues and investigate whether male Eurasian jays respond to the changing desire-state of their female partner when sharing food. Using a specific satiety paradigm, we were able to manipulate the female’s desire towards different food types: after pre-feeding her one type of food, her subsequent desire for that food decreased such that she preferred the other, non-pre-fed food. After watching the female being pre-fed on one type of food, the male was subsequently capable of flexibly adjusting his food-sharing behaviour according to the female’s desire. I will present a series of experiments investigating whether the male jay’s food-sharing behaviour satisfies two behavioural criteria for state-attribution, namely self-other differentiation and response to an internal, otherwise unobservable state and discuss whether these findings can bring us a step closer to understanding state-attribution in these birds.

This talk is part of the Madingley Lunchtime Seminars series.

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