Many neuroscience experiments rely on reporting from humans for their results. Some theories actually argue that what is conscious is almost defined by an ability to report it. This has been limiting for research with other species. A research group at the University of Tübingen trained some crows to report their conscious experiences by moving their heads in response to a stimulus and they have correlated the perception with the firing of brain cells.
Subjective experiences that can be consciously accessed and reported are associated with the cerebral cortex. Whether sensory consciousness can also arise from differently organized brains that lack a layered cerebral cortex, such as the bird brain, remains unknown. We show that single-neuron responses in the pallial endbrain of crows performing a visual detection task correlate with the birds’ perception about stimulus presence or absence and argue that this is an empirical marker of avian consciousness. Neuronal activity follows a temporal two-stage process in which the first activity component mainly reflects physical stimulus intensity, whereas the later component predicts the crows’ perceptual reports. These results suggest that the neural foundations that allow sensory consciousness arose either before the emergence of mammals or independently in at least the avian lineage and do not necessarily require a cerebral cortex.https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6511/1626
This isn’t surprising to me. The researchers conclude that sensory consciousness is not limited to “only primates or other mammals possessing a layered cerebral cortex.” If the capability derived from a common ancestor, this result “would date the evolution of consciousness back to at least 320 million years when reptiles and birds on the one hand, and mammals on the other hand, evolved from the last common stem-amniotic ancestor.” A short explanation of the study is here.