Are You Smarter Than A Parrot?


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Odds are, you’ve heard that parrots are some of the most intelligent birds. Now, according to recent research, a special parrot is capable of a newly discovered skill, one that only apes have shown an aptitude for. 

Keas, an endangered parrot species that hails from New Zealand, can understand probability and make flexible decisions based on changing environmental factors. 

In the study, Kea show three signatures of domain-general statistical inference, six parrots were trained to associate black pellets with treats and orange pellets with no treats. Researchers used three experiments, all with varying conditions, to test the Keas mental capabilities. 

For the first experiment, the researchers had two jars, one with a greater amount of black pellets and one with a greater amount of orange pellets. They picked one pellet out of the two jars, without showing the kea the color. After trying a number of times, the researchers concluded that the keas recognized they had a better chance of getting a treat when the researcher pulled from the jar with the black pellets. A barrier was added into the jars for the second experiment, and the keas were also able to successfully pick up which jar was more likely to contain the reward pellets.

For the third and final experiment, the keas were given pellets from jars by two different experimenters, allowing them to make decisions about which experimenter would be more willing to give them a treat (therefore detecting the biased experimenter versus the unbiased one). 

“Our study shows that kea display three signatures of human statistical inference,” says Amalia P.M. Bastos and Alex H. Taylor, the authors behind this study at the University of Auckland. “Just like infants and the great apes, kea made statistical inferences using relative rather than absolute quantities, and then integrated social and physical information into their predictions, using their knowledge of physical barriers and the bias of a sampler, to override predictions based purely on relative probabilities.” 

Another aspect of this research involved exploring how nonhuman intelligence of the mind evolves. Research looking into how a human or animal processes thoughts is a popular study of research, especially given the rise of artificial intelligence. In the pet industry, we've already seen robotic pets, and findings such as this can help develop these new technologies even further. 

“One of the holy grails of research on artificial intelligence is the type of commonsense reasoning that humans show, where we bring together multiple sources of information into a single prediction or judgement about what will happen next in the world,” said Taylor to the Guardian. “Our work suggests that aspects of this ability have likely evolved twice on our planetin primates and birds.”

While the study only focused on a certain species of parrots, there's the potential for other parrot species to possess similar abilities. More research is needed to learn more about what parrots are capable of—but the possibilities are endless. 

 

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