Bird-Brained Takes On New Meaning

July 17, 2013 | Julia Dawidowicz

We always knew there was something about those pigeons… New research reveals that human and bird brains are wired in a remarkably similar way — despite the fact that we’ve evolved down completely separate paths for hundreds of millions of years.

A team from Imperial College London made this discovery when they made the first-ever “map” of the various regions within a typical bird brain. After comparing this map with anatomies of mammalian brains, they found that while a bird’s brain doesn’t quite look like ours, the wiring between areas involved in high-level cognition (such as the hippocampus and other “hub nodes“) work in quite the same way.

We’ve already seen that pigeons and other birds are capable of complex social reasoning, tool use, problem solving, and other capabilities once believed to be strictly primate. These brain similarities could help explain why. Professor Murray Shanahan explains:

“Our study demonstrates that by looking at brains that are least like our own, yet still capable of generating intelligent behaviour, we can determine the basic principles governing the way brains work.”

By determining what is universal about “intelligent” brains in general, which the team hopes that these findings can ultimately be useful in building brain-mimicing computer models, or robots with artificial intelligence.