In 2021, a study on cephalopod intelligence, particularly cuttlefish, showcased the importance of recognizing the cognitive abilities of animals. Cuttlefish, subjected to a modified version of the marshmallow test, displayed an unexpected level of learning and adaptability, suggesting a complexity in their brains previously underestimated. Researchers believe this capability could provide cuttlefish with a competitive advantage in the fiercely competitive marine environment.

The marshmallow test, initially designed for humans, measures the ability to delay gratification, indicating cognitive skills such as future planning. While primates, dogs, and corvids have exhibited this ability, the 2020 study demonstrated that cuttlefish could also delay gratification when anticipating a preferred meal.

To delve deeper into cuttlefish cognition, a team led by behavioral ecologist Alexandra Schnell designed a new test involving six common cuttlefish. Placed in a tank with chambers containing different snacks, the cuttlefish had to wait for a preferred live grass shrimp, facing delays indicated by symbols on doors.

Results showed that all cuttlefish in the test condition patiently waited for the live shrimp, comparable to large-brained vertebrates like chimpanzees and crows. The study also evaluated their learning capacity by introducing visual cues, and cuttlefish that adapted quicker to changes were the same individuals displaying extended waiting times for the shrimp reward.

While the research highlights cuttlefish’s ability to exert self-control, the motivation behind this behavior remains unclear. Unlike social species linked to delayed gratification, cuttlefish, known for their solitary and non-tool-using nature, present a puzzle. The researchers hypothesize that this ability might be related to their foraging strategy, suggesting that delayed gratification evolved to optimize food choices during their brief foraging periods.

This study emphasizes how distinct species with different lifestyles can exhibit similar cognitive abilities, challenging preconceptions about animal intelligence. Future research aims to explore whether cuttlefish possess the capacity for future planning, adding another layer to our understanding of these intriguing marine creatures.

By Impact Lab