Pigeons are capable of switching between two tasks as quickly as humans – and even more quickly in certain situations. These are the findings of biopsychologists who performed the same behavioral experiments to test birds and humans. The authors hypothesize that the cause of the slight multitasking advantage in birds is their higher neuronal density. Dr. Sara Letzner and Professor Dr. Onur Güntürkün from Ruhr-Universität Bochum published the results in the September 25, 2017 issue of Current Biology, in collaboration with Professor Dr. Christian Beste from the University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus at Technische Universität Dresden. The open-access article is titled “How Birds Outperform Humans in Multi-Component Behavior.” “For a long time, scientists used to believe the mammalian cerebral cortex to be the anatomical cause of cognitive ability; it is made up of six cortical layers,” says Dr. Letzner. In birds, however, such a structure does not exist. “That means the structure of the mammalian cortex cannot be decisive for complex cognitive functions such as multitasking,” continues Dr. Letzner. The pallium of birds does not have any layers comparable to those in the human cortex; but its neurons are more densely packed than in the cerebral cortex in humans: pigeons, for example, have six times as many nerve cells as humans per cubic millimeter of brain. Consequently, the average distance between two neurons in pigeons is fifty per cent shorter than in humans. As the speed at which nerve cell signals are transmitted is the same in both birds and mammals, researchers had assumed that information is processed more quickly in avian brains than in mammalian brains.
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