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Parrots display teamwork and decision-making skills

Posted on 19. July, 2011.

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African grey parrots are capable of cooperating and performing tasks as a team, but they let their personalities lead their decision. That’s according to a new study published in the journal Animal Cognition by a team led by Dr Dalila Bovet from Paris West University Nanterre La Defense.

The problem-solving test they used for their research was originally designed to test the team-work ability of chimpanzees and has also been used with elephants. A tray was filled with food for the birds, but in order to acquire it, they needed to work as a team to pull it toward them by two strings. They demonstrated the ability to understand that they needed a partner in order to complete the task and they would wait for one to arrive.

In another task, one of the birds was required to climb a perch in order to release the tray which was then pulled by the second bird, and they were also able to carry out these complementary roles.

However, in the third test, the parrots let their personalities shine through. When the birds were given a choice of performing an individual task with less food reward versus a team task with a reward of twice as much food, the results were dependent on which of the three birds were participating.

Shango proved to be the more individualistic bird and was more prone to choose the solo task. Zoe, the one female, would only choose the team task when paired with Leo, a male parrot she was reared with, but she refused to work as a team with Shango. Leo seemed to like his extra rewards and always choose to take a partner.

This shows the researchers that the birds were not just demonstrating a conditioned response to completing the task, but used their personalities in their decision of whether to work as a team or go it alone.

The article, Cooperative problem solving in African grey parrots by Dr Dalila Bovet is published in Animal Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-011-0389-2.

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