If you're extra cautious around ravens because you know they can remember your face and believed it can enact vengeance anytime, your fears are now confirmed. Jorg Massen, Caroline Ritter and Thomas Bugnyar from the University of Vienna studied the behavior of Ravens with regard to cooperation and equity and, yes, these birds believe in crime and punishment.
Ravens are definitely one of the smartest birds and experiments have proven time and again how these Corvids can solve multi-step problems and use tools to their advantage. In the wild, ravens are also known to be able to cooperate with each other in order to gain benefit for everyone, such as in situations where a predator is involved, and Mansen and his team wanted to discover just how exactly this cooperative environment operates.
Massen's team set up a wooden platform where a piece of cheese was placed on each end. A string is threaded through two metal rings secured on the wooden platform. The experiment was divided into two parts: the first experiment consisted of seven ravens and the second involved two additional ravens. In both experiments, ravens were paired up and presented the puzzle for them to work on. The goal of the puzzle was to have the birds cooperate in pulling an end of the string presented to them. If only one works, the string is unthreaded and none of the birds are rewarded. However, if the pair cooperates in pulling the string together, the platform comes closer to them until they can reach for the snack.
In both experiments, not all of the ravens cooperated, but Massen and his team observed that when the bird who did not do equal work or stole the treat of the bird who worked, the "victim" would refuse to cooperate with the cheater in subsequent encounters.
There is a downside, though. Once the cheaters realize that deception can work to get treats for themselves, they have the tendency to repeat the action. It seems that, even across species, the saying "once a cheat always a cheat" applies.
The study was published online on Oct. 7.