The passage below is accompanied by a set of questions. Choose the best answer to each question.

Cuttlefish are full of personality, as behavioral ecologist Alexandra Schnell found out while researching the cephalopod's potential to display self-control. . . . “Self-control is thought to be the cornerstone of intelligence, as it is an important prerequisite for complex decision-making and planning for the future,” says Schnell . . .

[Schnell's] study used a modified version of the “marshmallow test” . . . During the original marshmallow test, psychologist Walter Mischel presented children between age four and six with one marshmallow. He told them that if they waited 15 minutes and didn’t eat it, he would give them a second marshmallow. A long-term follow-up study showed that the children who waited for the second marshmallow had more success later in life. . . . The cuttlefish version of the experiment looked a lot different. The researchers worked with six cuttlefish under nine months old and presented them with seafood instead of sweets. (Preliminary experiments showed that cuttlefishes’ favorite food is live grass shrimp, while raw prawns are so-so and Asian shore crab is nearly unacceptable.) Since the researchers couldn’t explain to the cuttlefish that they would need to wait for their shrimp, they trained them to recognize certain shapes that indicated when a food item would become available. The symbols were pasted on transparent drawers so that the cuttlefish could see the food that was stored inside. One drawer, labeled with a circle to mean “immediate,” held raw king prawn. Another drawer, labeled with a triangle to mean “delayed,” held live grass shrimp. During a control experiment, square labels meant “never.”

“If their self-control is flexible and I hadn’t just trained them to wait in any context, you would expect the cuttlefish to take the immediate reward [in the control], even if it’s their second preference,” says Schnell . . . and that’s what they did. That showed the researchers that cuttlefish wouldn’t reject the prawns if it was the only food available. In the experimental trials, the cuttlefish didn’t jump on the prawns if the live grass shrimp were labeled with a triangle— many waited for the shrimp drawer to open up. Each time the cuttlefish showed it could wait, the researchers tacked another ten seconds on to the next round of waiting before releasing the shrimp. The longest that a cuttlefish waited was 130 seconds.

Schnell [says] that the cuttlefish usually sat at the bottom of the tank and looked at the two food items while they waited, but sometimes, they would turn away from the king prawn “as if to distract themselves from the temptation of the immediate reward.” In past studies, humans, chimpanzees, parrots and dogs also tried to distract themselves while waiting for a reward.

Not every species can use self-control, but most of the animals that can share another trait in common: long, social lives. Cuttlefish, on the other hand, are solitary creatures that don’t form relationships even with mates or young. . . . “We don’t know if living in a social group is important for complex cognition unless we also show those abilities are lacking in less social species,” says . . . comparative psychologist Jennifer Vonk.

Question 16

In which one of the following scenarios would the cuttlefish’s behaviour demonstrate self-control?


The question tests our understanding of the experiment stated in the second paragraph. The key highlights of the modified cuttlefish experiment are:

(a) Food choice: 1st preference - live grass shrimp; 2nd preference - raw prawns; 3rd preference - Asian shore crab 

(b) Symbol based training: Circle - immediate availability; Triangle - delayed availability; Square - never available

(c) Observations: in the absence of 1st preference ---> cuttlefish will go for 2nd preference {applies to all such scenarios involving only one food choice};  in the presence of multiple food choices, cuttlefish will wait ---> if 1st pref is available and associated with either Circle or Triangle

Based on the above, we can filter out the given options:

Option A: We know that raw prawns and Asian shore crab are not the primary preference of the cuttlefish. Additionally, we know that live grass shrimp (1st presence) is available for delayed consumption {associated with a Triangle}. If the cuttlefish waits for one minute to consume live grass shrimp and ignores the other two food choices, this definitively showcases that cuttlefish exert self-control. Hence, Option A is a strong candidate for the correct choice since it supplements the experiment's findings.   

Option B: In this case, the cuttlefish will go for the raw prawns since it has been conditioned to understand that the box labelled with Square will never open. This does not contribute to establishing self-control in cuttlefish. Thus, we can reject this choice. 

Option C: In this case, the cuttlefish will go for the raw prawns and avoid the Asian shore crab irrespective of the box it is placed in. This is because raw prawns fare more favourably as a food choice than Asian shore crab. {We know from points (a) and (c) that the cuttlefish will go for the 2nd preference over the 3rd} This does not contribute to establishing self-control in cuttlefish. Thus, we can reject this choice.

Option D: In this case, the cuttlefish will go for the live grass shrimp and avoid the raw prawns irrespective of the box it is placed in. This is because live grass shrimp fares more favourably as a food choice than raw prawns. {We know from points (a) and (c) that the cuttlefish will go for the 1st preference over the 2nd} This does not contribute to establishing self-control in cuttlefish. Therefore, we can reject this choice.

Hence, the correct answer is Option A.

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