Cuttlefish Passes Cognitive Test Meant for Children, Proving Human-Like Intelligence Exists in the Sea World

Broadclub Cuttlefish, Sepia latimanus, Bali, Indonesia.
Photo by: Prisma Bildagentur/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The cuttlefish, an underwater sea creature, just passed a cognitive test proving that there is still plenty to learn about animal intelligence, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

The cuttlefish, an underwater sea creature, just passed a cognitive test, proving that there is still plenty to learn about animal intelligence.

The bulbous sea creatures, which are part of the Cephalopod family and are relatives to the squid and octopus, have proven to be very adaptive and quick learners, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge, which said the species could have developed this trait over time in the competitive marine world.

The well-known "marshmallow test," otherwise known as the Stanford marshmallow experiment, was conducted on the creature to test its restraint.

Typically, the test is conducted on a child to measure delayed gratification as a way to study the development of human cognitive ability.

A child is placed alone in a room and given a single marshmallow. They are then told that if they can withhold their desire to eat the treat for 15 minutes, they will be given a second marshmallow and can ultimately eat both.

Researchers have adjusted the test to be applied to animals. Dogs and some primates demonstrate the same resistance, all passing the marshmallow test.

Cuttlefish, similarly, also passed the test. They were able to wait for a better reward and could tolerate delays up to 50-130 seconds. 

In the test, they learned to wait to eat the shrimp, their preferred food, which was waiting behind one door, instead of the raw king prawn which is less desirable but was readily available to them.

Other "large-brained vertebrates including chimpanzees, crows, and parrots," are able to wait for rewards for the same period of time, ecologist Alexandra Schnell said.

Cuttlefish were also able to associate shapes with rewards. They were presented with two different visual cues: a grey square and a white one. When they approached one, the other would be removed from the tank. When they made the "correct" choice they were rewarded.

The researchers then switched the cues, and the cuttlefish was able to adapt quickly, proving they can exert self-control.

Scientists believe the reason they have so much self-control is that cuttlefish, which normally camouflage to hide from predators, are used to carefully choosing when to attack their prey so they don't expose themselves to danger.