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Play behaviour and tool using in birds, two well-delineated and amply researched behaviours, have generally been associated with cognitive abilities. In this study, these behaviours were related to relative brain mass in a sample of Australian native birds. Despite suggestive research results so far between cognition and tool using, this study found no significant difference in relative brain mass or in lifespan between tool-using birds and non-tool users. By contrast, in play behaviour, subdivided into social players and non-social players, the results showed statistically very clear differences in relative brain mass between social, non-social and non-players. Social play was associated with both the largest brain mass to body mass ratios and with the longest lifespans. The results show that play behaviour is a crucial variable associated with brain enlargement, not tool using. Since many of the tool using species tested so far also play, this study suggests that false conclusions can be drawn about the connection between tool using and cognitive ability when the silent variable (play behaviour) is not taken into account.


Gisela Kaplan. Play behaviour, not tool using, relates to brain mass in a sample of birds. Scientific reports. 2020 Nov 24;10(1):20437

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PMID: 33235248

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