Investigating animal cognition with the Aesop’s Fable paradigm: Current understanding and future directions

Sarah A. Jelbert*, Alex H. Taylor, Russell D. Gray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The Aesop’s Fable paradigm - in which subjects drop stones into tubes of water to obtain floating out-of-reach rewards - has been used to assess causal understanding in rooks, crows, jays and human children. To date, the performance of corvids suggests that they can recognize the functional properties of a variety of objects including size, weight and solidity, and they seem to be more capable of learning from causal information than arbitrary information. However, 2 alternative explanations for their performance have yet to be ruled out. The perceptual-motor feedback hypothesis suggests that subjects may attend solely to the movement of the reward, repeating actions which bring the reward closer, while the object-bias hypothesis suggests that subjects could pass certain tasks by preferring to handle objects that resemble natural stones. Here we review our current understanding of performance on the Aesop’s Fable tasks, and suggest that studies controlling for feedback and object preferences will help us determine exactly what animals understand about the cause and effect of water displacement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalCommunicative and Integrative Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Causal reasoning
  • Causal understanding
  • Cause-and-effect
  • Children
  • Comparative cognition
  • Eurasian jays
  • New caledonian crows
  • Object-bias
  • Perceptual-motor feedback
  • Rooks
  • Stone-dropping

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