The Stanford University Marshmallow Test is well known. In the experiment, children were offered an immediate prize, a candy, but were warned that if they did not eat it and wait for a little, about fifteen minutes, they would get a bigger prize, two treats. In subsequent studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the prize did better in life in different ways. Well, the same thing happens to cuttlefish.

The cuttlefish ( Sepia Officinalis ) are few, rare as could be, with complex brains and have demonstrated good memories of fascinating creatures. It is not surprising that researchers are interested in them. A new study published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that these cephalopods can delay gratification and wait for a better meal rather than be tempted by the one at hand. As with the children in the marshmallow experiment, those who can wait for the longest also do quite well in life. At least they do better on learning tests.

Self-control And Intelligence

This intriguing report carried out at the Marine Biology Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole (Massachusetts, USA), marks the first time that a link between self-control and intelligence has been found in an animal other than humans. and chimpanzees. The cuttlefish was able to expect the best reward and tolerated delays of up to 50-130 seconds, which is comparable to what we see in large-brain vertebrates such as chimpanzees, crows, and parrots, explains Roger Hanlon, a leading expert on the behavior of cephalopods and lead.

Cuttlefish that could wait longer to eat also showed better cognitive performance on a learning task. In that experiment, cuttlefish were trained to associate a visual cue with a food reward. Then the situation was reversed, so the reward was associated with a different signal. Cuttlefish that were quicker to learn both associations were better at exercising self-control says lead study author Alexandra Schnell of the University of Cambridge.

Consequence 0f Camouflage

Why the cuttlefish has developed this capacity for self-control is a bit of a mystery. Delayed gratification in humans is believed to strengthen social ties between individuals, such as waiting to eat so that the couple can do so first, which benefits the species as a whole. It can also be a function of tool builder animals, which need to wait to hunt while building the tool.

But the cuttlefish is not a social species and does not build tools. Instead, the authors suggest, delayed gratification may be a byproduct of your need to camouflage yourself to survive. Cuttlefish spend most of their time camouflaging, sitting, and waiting, interrupted by brief periods of foraging, says Schnell. They break the camouflage when they feed, so they are exposed to all the predators in the ocean that want to eat them. We speculate that delayed gratification may have evolved as a by-product of this, so that cuttlefish may optimize their foraging by waiting to choose better quality food. Finding this link between self-control and learning performance in a species outside the primate lineage is an extreme example of convergent evolution, where completely different evolutionary histories have led to the same cognitive trait.