Joe Rogan drew attention to a recent scientific study that found cephalopods, specifically cuttlefish, were able to pass a cognitive test designed for human babies. The Joe Rogan Experience podcast host blasted out a story from ScienceAlert to his millions of followers on March 2, adding “This is f***** WILD.”
ScienceAlert wrote about the study, “Their ability to learn and adapt, the researchers said, could have evolved to give cuttlefish an edge in the cutthroat eat-or-be-eaten marine world they live in.” The research article, titled, “Cuttlefish exert self-control in a delay of gratification task,” was published by The Royal Society Publishing on March 3, 2021. It was authored by University of Cambridge researchers Alexandra Schnell, Markus Boeckle, Micaela Rivera, Nicola Clayton and Roger Hanlon.
The researchers wrote in the abstract of the paper, “Here, we investigate self-control and learning performance in cuttlefish, an invertebrate that is thought to have evolved under partially different pressures to previously studied vertebrates. … Cuttlefish that delayed gratification for longer had better learning performance. Our results demonstrate that cuttlefish can tolerate delays to obtain food of higher quality comparable to that of some large-brained vertebrates.”
Cuttlefish are marine mollusks that belong to the Cephalopoda class, which also includes octopus and squid, according to Britannica. NOVA wrote about cuttlefish, “One of the most mystifying creatures of the deep, the cuttlefish has abilities and even senses that are alien to us humans. This versatile animal can change its appearance at will, mimicking floating vegetation or rocks on the seafloor. Yet when danger looms, the animal can jet away at great speeds, shooting out a smoke screen of ink or using its ink to create decoys of itself.”
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The Cuttlefish Were Able to Pass the ‘Marshmallow Test’
According to ScienceAlert, the new research that blew Joe Rogan away showed cuttlefish were able to pass a version of the marshmallow test. The science website wrote, “The marshmallow test, or Stanford marshmallow experiment, is pretty straightforward. A child is placed in a room with a marshmallow. They are told if they can manage not to eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes, they’ll get a second marshmallow, and be allowed to eat both.”
In the version for the cephalopods, the researchers showed cuttlefish were able to delay eating crab meat in the morning when they learned they would be given a dinner of something better, like shrimp, later in the day. They also were able to pass another version of the marshmallow test where six cuttlefish were put in a tank with two enclosed chambers with transparent doors that allowed them to see inside. The researchers put a less desirable raw king prawn in one chamber and a more desirable live grass shrimp in the other. According to ScienceAlert:
The doors also had symbols on them that the cuttlefish had been trained to recognise. A circle meant the door would open straight away. A triangle meant the door would open after a time interval between 10 and 130 seconds. And a square, used only in the control condition, meant the door stayed closed indefinitely.
In the test condition, the prawn was placed behind the open door, while the live shrimp was only accessible after a delay. If the cuttlefish went for the prawn, the shrimp was immediately removed.
Meanwhile, in the control group, the shrimp remained inaccessible behind the square-symbol door that wouldn’t open.
The researchers found that all of the cuttlefish in the test condition decided to wait for their preferred food (the live shrimp), but didn’t bother to do so in the control group, where they couldn’t access it.
One of the researchers, Alexandra Schnell, told ScienceAlert, “Cuttlefish in the present study were all able to wait for the better reward and tolerated delays for up to 50-130 seconds, which is comparable to what we see in large-brained vertebrates such as chimpanzees, crows and parrots.”
Schnell told Inverse, “Finding evidence for self-control in a cuttlefish, an invertebrate that diverged from the vertebrate lineage over 550 million years ago, is surprising.”
The University of Cambridge researcher told Hakai Magazine, “You do get the impatient ones. There was one cuttlefish that would squirt me with her siphon repeatedly until I would come over to feed her. They have so much character.”
She said that the similar cognitive traits between humans and cuttlefish evolved independently, telling Hakai Magazine, “Our brains are so structurally different. The mammal brain is divided into two hemispheres and made up of about five lobes. The cephalopod brain is donut-shaped. It’s between 30 and 40 lobes, if you’re talking about a cuttlefish or octopus, and it doesn’t have these hemispheres.”
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Rogan Talked About Cephalopods With a Social Psychologist on His Show
Rogan has often expressed enthusiasm about the behavior of cephalopods, like cuttlefish and octopus, including during a November 2018 discussion with social psychologist William von Hippel. His guest on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast episode told Rogan that scientists have learned groupers and octopus work together while hunting.
“The grouper will be over the Great Barrier Reef and the fish will be going in and goes to the octopus and says right there,” von Hippel told Rogan, who reacted with a “no way.” Von Hippel added that the grouper “doesn’t give a s*** about the octopus, of course, but if the octopus goes to get it and doesn’t get it, it’s going to come out and the grouper’s got it. Cooperation always works better than working on your own.”
Rogan and von Hippel then watched a video of an octopus hunting with fish, and Rogan said, “I f****** love octopi. We’ve gone down massive rabbit holes with these things. … That’s fascinating.” Rogan added, “It’s weird that they split off from us hundreds of millions of years ago. But they’re so smart.”