In Psychology Today, Jonathan Bascombe considers a cover story in Time magazine called “Inside the minds of animals,” by Jeffrey Kluger in which Kluger fails to attribute intelligence to cows. Bascombe notes that cows appear to take “pleasure in their learning achievements.” Don’t read this while eating a hamburger.
A 2004 Cambridge University experiment showed that young heifers exhibit behavioral expressions of excitement when they solve a problem. At critical points in their learning curve in a task that required pressing their nose against a panel to open a gate for access to food, the heifers showed behavioral signs of excitement (jumping, bucking, or kicking), and the animals’ heart rates rose. A second group of heifers whose access to food was provided independently of their panel presses showed no such behaviors. This study suggests that cows-and probably many other animals-can have “eureka” moments, taking pleasure in their own learning achievements.
Pressing a panel to get food may not seem like such an astonishing bovine act to us now, but it wasn’t long ago when scientists gauged ape smarts by comparable feats. Perhaps it’s time to form a counterpart to the Great Ape Trust that focuses on bovine consciousness and intelligence. After all, corvids (crows, jays, ravens, magpies, etc.) have leapfrogged social carnivores in Kluger’s smartness continuum. Who would have expected birdbrains to do that?