Infants no smarter than a parrot

Parrots have the intelligence of toddlers

African gray parrots are able to perform similarly complex mental tasks as a three-year-old child. This is the result of a study published in the British journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B" (Proceedings B) by the scientists led by Christian Schloegl from the Research Center for the Evolution of Social Behavior at the University of Göttingen and Judith Schmidt from the Institute for Behavioral Biology at the University of Vienna.

Logical thinking has so far been regarded as an exceptional characteristic of the human species. At best, apes of this complex understanding between cause and effect could also be scientifically proven in apes, other animals were considered to be unable to do so. Now the scientists around Christian Schloegl and Judith Schmidt have found out that gray parrots are also capable of logical thinking. According to the Austrian and German behavioral biologists, they have an intelligence similar to that of a three-year-old child.

Parrots recognize the rattling of the nut in the feed beaker In order to test the parrot's thinking ability, the researchers subjected the birds to a test in which one could choose between two opaque plastic cups - one contained a nut, the other was empty. Before the parrots decided, the filled beaker was shaken in the first experiment, in the second experiment the researchers shook both beakers and in the third only the empty one. If the cup was shaken with the nut, the parrots could hear the clatter and consequently the majority chose the filled cup. When shaking both cups, the birds usually recognized the correct one. It was surprising, however, that even if only the empty cup was shaken, they usually chose the cup with food. According to the researchers, this requires a complex level of thinking, which human children are only able to achieve from the age of around three years.

Parrots recognize the connection between nuts, shakes and noise Such a capability to make logical conclusions has so far only been found in apes, except for humans, reports the research team in the article "Gray parrots use inferential thinking based solely on acoustic signals". Schloegl and Schmidt were convinced that "gray parrots have understood the causal connection between nut, shake and noise." This has "so far only been successful in great apes, but not other types of monkeys and dogs," the scientists report. However, the researchers also had to limit the informative value of their study in some points. Because on the one hand only six parrots were tested and on the other hand the shaking movement was surprisingly crucial for the accuracy of the birds.

Limitations of the parrots' logical ability to think When moving the food cup horizontally from left to right, the parrots usually recognized the correct vessel, but when moving vertically from top to bottom they could not. The animals may have associated the vertical shaking of the cup with the nod of the head, which is an important part of social behavior in parrots, and were therefore confused, the researchers suspected. Their otherwise ape-like ability to think logically is likely to be inhibited by subtle instinctive disorders, the behavioral biologists continue. In future studies, it must therefore be examined whether the gray parrots are also capable of similar thinking in other experimental setups. (fp)

Image: Martina Friedl /

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