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All of us here know well the intelligence of rats. Every day, our rats impress us with their abilities. They hoard items of importance to them much like humans, they have an uncanny ability to get out of just about any situation, they charm us, they break out of seemingly completely escape-proofed cages, they build hierarchies among themselves not unlike the hierarchies of human beings.

Wild rats live amongst humans for the most part unnoticed, nicking food, thwarting traps, creating tunnels from one end of an entire city to another. It was said to me by a friend that when a building collapses or is knocked down in certain major cities, wild rats will actually continue to follow the same patterns they have mapped out around the building's edge. Instead of running around the rubble or becoming confused, they will actually run the same course, as if the wall they previously ran against still remained.

However, many animals display similar intelligences. It is not such a great thing to run in a set pattern, to scavenge from humans and to coexist with humans without detection, as many animals do.

But just this year there was an article published in Current Biology containing the research of Allison L. Foote and Jonathon D. Crystal, claiming that there is sufficient evidence that rats have the ability to metacognate.

This might not mean anything to a lot of people, but if you know what it means, you will know that it is greatly significant. The ability to metacognate was one long thought to be exclusive to human beings and certain primates.

What is metacognition? In my own words, it is the ability to think about thinking. In the article, metacognition is described as "The ability to reflect on one's own mental processes." It is what separates us as human beings from other animals. It is what has made us the dominating species that we are today. I have always thought, to metacognate is to be human.

An example of metacognition is asking oneself why one feels a certain way. It is important in the healing process for people suffering from depression, or in our ability to analyse any situation. A dog may be sad, but does not understand what it is to be sad or to understand itself as sad. A human may be sad and understand what being sad means and that they are in this current state of mind. This is through our ability to metacognate.

This is the summary provided by Foote and Crystal. It had me thoroughly amazed and impressed.

"The ability to reflect on one's own mental processes, termed metacognition, is a defining feature of human existence 1 and 2. Consequently, a fundamental question in comparative cognition is whether nonhuman animals have knowledge of their own cognitive states [3]. Recent evidence suggests that people and nonhuman primates 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 but not less “cognitively sophisticated” species 3, 9 and 10 are capable of metacognition. Here, we demonstrate for the first time that rats are capable of metacognition—i.e., they know when they do not know the answer in a duration-discrimination test. Before taking the duration test, rats were given the opportunity to decline the test. On other trials, they were not given the option to decline the test. Accurate performance on the duration test yielded a large reward, whereas inaccurate performance resulted in no reward. Declining a test yielded a small but guaranteed reward. If rats possess knowledge regarding whether they know the answer to the test, they would be expected to decline most frequently on difficult tests and show lowest accuracy on difficult tests that cannot be declined [4]. Our data provide evidence for both predictions and suggest that a nonprimate has knowledge of its own cognitive state."
 

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Whoa, fascinating!! That's really really cool research! I'm going to have to do some reading up on this!
Thanks for the writeup!
 
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