Cuttlefish, their close relatives like octopus and squid are wise to surprise. They have proved it again by delaying satisfaction in exchange for greater rewards. In 1972, Professor Walter Mitchell conducted a famous experiment, placing a marshmallow in front of a child between the ages of three and six, telling them that he was leaving the house – but if the food survived in his absence, they could have two instead. Michelle then followed her subjects as adults and saw that those who held on to more rewards were generally more successful in life. Ironically, Michelle’s explanation of the reasons for this relationship may be wrong for humans, but right for marine mollusks.
There is a growing field for children to apply psychology experiments primarily to non-human beings, revealing that the abilities that seem to seen together in humans may divide among other species. Dr. Alexandra Chanel of the University of Cambridge first taught the marshmallow test of cephalopods by learning the preferences of six common catfish (Sepia Officinalis) out of three foods. Schnell then placed the cuttlefish in a tank with two chambers, so that if they reached one chamber, the food in the other room would remove. After learning the lesson, the less desirable crab kept in one room and after a delay, the more preferred shrimp kept in the other. Shrimp acquired things that crabs could resist.
The report of the proceedings of the Chanel Royal Society B stated that the cuttlefish would wait 50 to 130 seconds for the shrimp delight, but they were not all equally patient. Chanel said in a statement, “these two associations were quick to learn that the catfish were better at working on self-control.” Some long-term satisfaction needed, abandoning their immediate interests to help others for the long-term return of the social species. Yet, despite the experimentation of many other species, only great apes, parrots, and crows have passed this test before. Cuttlefish are not collaborators, so it is not clear why they developed this capability. Chanel suggested it could be a by-product of their hunting strategy.
“Cuttlefish spend most of their time in disguise, sitting and waiting, running around for short periods of time,” Schnell said. “They break the camouflage when they are grazing, so they want to eat them face every predator at sea food.” Just two months later, another group reported that cuttlefish had learned to adapt to their prey to increase adversity. Although similarities with Michelle’s work noted, the study not designed to match the famous test, testing gambling ability rather than delayed satisfaction. A new generation of psychologists has pointed out flaws in Michelle’s decision. He assumed that it the children who showed the ability for late satisfaction that led to later success in their lives – for example, by staying in school longer.
However, subsequent studies revealed that children growing up in unstable environments were less likely to pass the test, sometimes making completely logical decisions based on their circumstances. Growing up not fulfilling your dreams can be about starting from a rickety platform at least like a mental failure if you adults do not keep their promises. Chanel’s Cattle Fish training did not face any such discrimination. The marshmallow experiment retains its power as a metaphor for society as a whole. How can we collectively accept what we want now in large numbers in the future? If not, cuttlefish will probably inherit the earth.