Based on Reasearch by Preston Foerder, Ph.D.. Psychology Science Minute written by Sarah W. Arnett, Psy.D.
Psychology Science Minute brought to you by the School of Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.
When was the last time you had an “aha” moment, when you knew exactly what to do? This experience is not limited to humans. Scientists show chimps and even crows solve problems without prior trial and error. However, during experiments scientists were unable to show that elephants had this ability. This is puzzling when elephants are at the top of the brainiest creatures list.
The problem may have been with those highly intelligent beings devising the tests, not the elephants. Scientists first used similar tests they had used on chimps involving sticks to get food out of reach. The elephants used their trunks to find and pick up food, but did not try to obtain the food when holding the sticks. Psychologist Preston Foerder experienced his own “aha” moment. Elephants used sticks for everything except getting food because when holding a stick the trunk lost its ability to locate food through smell and touch. It is like being blindfolded, then being asked to hold a stick to find food. So instead he gave the elephants strong cubes they could climb on. Using insightful thought, the elephant moved and stacked the cubes to climb on to reach the food with their trunk. Thus the problem was not with the elephants but with the humans testing them!
Just because we can’t see a solution right away doesn’t mean there isn’t one!
Foerder P, Galloway M, Barthel T, Moore DE III, Reiss D (2011) Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant. PLoS ONE 6(8): e23251. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023251
Original paper in full: