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Question 20 of 24

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Passage Content

Questions 20–24 are based on the following passages.

Passage 1 is adapted from Susan Milius, “A Different Kind of Smart.” ©2013 by Science News. Passage 2 is adapted from Bernd Heinrich, Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds. ©2007 by Bernd Heinrich.

Passage 1

In 1894, British psychologist C. Lloyd Morgan published what’s called Morgan’s canon, the principle that suggestions of humanlike mental processes behind an animal’s behavior should be rejected if a simpler explanation will do.

Still, people seem to maintain certain expectations, especially when it comes to birds and mammals. “We somehow want to prove they are as ‘smart’ as people,” zoologist Sara Shettleworth says. We want a bird that masters a vexing problem to be employing human-style insight.

New Caledonian crows face the high end of these expectations, as possibly the second-best toolmakers on the planet.

Their tools are hooked sticks or strips made from spike-edged leaves, and they use them in the wild to winkle grubs out of crevices. Researcher Russell Gray first saw the process on a cold morning in a mountain forest in New Caledonia, an island chain east of Australia. Over the course of days, he and crow researcher Gavin Hunt had gotten wild crows used to finding meat tidbits in holes in a log.Once the birds were checking the log reliably, the researchers placed a spiky tropical pandanus plant beside the log and hid behind a blind.

A crow arrived. It hopped onto the pandanus plant, grabbed the spiked edge of one of the long straplike leaves and began a series of ripping motions. Instead of just tearing away one long strip, the bird ripped and nipped in a sequence to create a slanting stair-step edge on a leaf segment with a narrow point and a wide base. The process took only seconds. Then the bird dipped the narrow end of its leaf strip into a hole in the log, fished up the meat with the leaf-edge spikes, swallowed its prize and flew off.

That was my ‘oh wow’ moment,” Gray says. After the crow had vanished, he picked up the tool the bird had left behind. “I had a go, and I couldn’t do it,” he recalls. Fishing the meat out was tricky. It turned out that Gray was moving the leaf shard too forcefully instead of gently stroking the spines against the treat.

The crow’s deft physical manipulation was what inspired Gray and Auckland colleague Alex Taylor to test other wild crows to see if they employed the seemingly insightful string-pulling solutions that some ravens, kea parrots and other brainiac birds are known to employ. Three of four crows passed that test on the first try.


Passage 2

For one month after they left the nest, I led my four young ravens at least once and sometimes several times a day on thirty-minute walks. During these walks, I wrote down everything in their environment they pecked at. In the first sessions, I tried to be teacher. I touched specific objects—sticks, moss, rocks—and nothing that I touched remained untouched by them. They came to investigate what I had investigated, leading me to assume that young birds are aided in learning to identify food from the parents’ example. They also, however, contacted almost everything else that lay directly in their own paths. They soon became more independent by taking their own routes near mine. Even while walking along on their own, they pulled at leaves, grass stems, flowers, bark, pine needles, seeds, cones, clods of earth, and other objects they encountered. I wrote all this down, converting it to numbers. After they were thoroughly familiar with the background objects in these woods and started to ignore them, I seeded the path we would later walk together with objects they had never before encountered. Some of these were conspicuous food items: raspberries, dead meal worm beetles, and cooked corn kernels. Others were conspicuous and inedible: pebbles, glass chips, red winterberries. Still others were such highly cryptic foods as encased caddisfly larvae and moth cocoons. The results were dramatic.

The four young birds on our daily walks contacted all new objects preferentially. They picked them out at a rate of up to tens of thousands of times greater than background or previously contacted objects. The main initial criterion for pecking or picking anything up was its novelty. In subsequent trials, when the previously novel items were edible, they became preferred and the inedible objects became “background” items, just like the leaves, grass, and pebbles, even if they were highly conspicuous. These experiments showed that ravens’ curiosity ensures exposure to all or almost all items in the environment.


Select an Answer

Within Passage 1, the main purpose of the first two paragraphs (lines 16) is to

offer historical background in order to question the uniqueness of two researchers’ findings.

Correct Answer: 

offer interpretive context in order to frame the discussion of an experiment and its results.

Correct Answer: 

introduce a scientific principle in order to show how an experiment’s outcomes validated that principle.

Correct Answer: 

present seemingly contradictory stances in order to show how they can be reconciled empirically.

Correct Answer: 

Choice B is the best answer. Passage 1 opens with an explanation of Morgan’s canon and continues with a discussion of people’s expectations regarding animal intelligence. Taken together, the first two paragraphs indicate that despite cautions to the contrary, people still tend to look for humanlike levels of intelligence in many animals, including birds. These two paragraphs provide a framework in which to assess the work of Gray and Hunt, presented in the rest of the passage. The passage’s characterization of the experiment Gray and Hunt conduct, in which they observe a crow’s tool-making ability and to which Gray responds by trying and failing to mimic the bird’s behavior (“I had a go, and I couldn’t do it,” Passage 1, line 20), suggests that Shettleworth, quoted in the second paragraph, is at least partially correct in her assessment that “We somehow want to prove [birds] are as ‘smart’ as people” (Passage 1, lines 45).

Choice A is not the best answer because while the reference to Morgan’s canon in the first paragraph offers a sort of historical background (given that the canon was published in 1894), the second paragraph describes people’s continuing expectations regarding animal intelligence. Furthermore, the fact that Gray and Hunt may share with other people the tendency to look for humanlike intelligence in many animals does not by itself establish that the main purpose of the first two paragraphs is to question the uniqueness of Gray and Hunt’s findings.

Choice C is not the best answer because while the reference to Morgan’s canon in the first paragraph does introduce a scientific principle, the discussion in the second paragraph of people’s expectations regarding animal intelligence, as well as the passage’s characterization of Gray and Hunt’s experiment and how the researchers interpret the results, primarily suggest that people tend to violate the canon by attributing humanlike levels of intelligence to many animals.

Choice D is not the best answer because although the first two paragraphs do present different perspectives, they are not seemingly or genuinely contradictory. The second paragraph, particularly the quotation from Shettleworth, serves mainly to qualify (not contradict) the position staked out in the first paragraph by suggesting that while Morgan’s canon is probably a sound principle, people still tend to project humanlike levels of intelligence onto many animals. Moreover, the experiment depicted in the rest of the passage primarily bears out Shettleworth’s claim that “We somehow want to prove [birds] are as ‘smart’ as people” (Passage 1, lines 45) and thus does not reconcile the perspectives found in the opening paragraphs.

Question Difficulty: 
Passage Complexity: 

Students must determine the main purpose of two paragraphs in relation to the passage as a whole.