Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

African Grey Parrot Is First Bird To Comprehend Numerical Concept Akin To Zero

Date:
July 11, 2005
Source:
Brandeis University
Summary:
A Brandeis Univesity researcher has shown that an African grey parrot with a walnut-sized brain understands a zero-like concept -- an abstract notion that humans don't typically understand until age 3 or 4, and that can significantly challenge learning-disabled children.

A Brandeis University researcher has shown that an African grey parrot with a walnut-sized brain understands a numerical concept akin to zero -- an abstract notion that humans don't typically understand until age three or four, and that can significantly challenge learning-disabled children.
Credit: Image courtesy of Brandeis University

Waltham, Mass. -- A Brandeis University researcher has shown that an African grey parrot with a walnut-sized brain understands a numerical concept akin to zero -- an abstract notion that humans don't typically understand until age three or four, and that can significantly challenge learning-disabled children

Related Articles


Strikingly, Alex, the 28-year-old parrot who lives in a Brandeis lab run by comparative psychologist and cognitive scientist Dr. Irene Pepperberg, spontaneously and correctly used the label "none" during a testing session of his counting skills to describe an absence of a numerical quantity on a tray. This discovery prompted a series of trials in which Alex consistently demonstrated the ability to identify zero quantity by saying the label "none."

Dr. Pepperberg's research findings, published in the current issue of The Journal of Comparative Psychology, add to a growing body of scientific evidence that the avian brain, though physically and organizationally somewhat different from the mammalian cortex, is capable of higher cognitive processing than previously thought. Chimpanzees and possibly squirrel monkeys show some understanding of the concept of zero, but Alex is the first bird to demonstrate an understanding of the absence of a numerical set, Dr. Pepperberg noted.

"It is doubtful that Alex's achievement, or those of some other animals such as chimps, can be completely trained; rather, it seems likely that these skills are based on simpler cognitive abilities they need for survival, such as recognition of more versus less," explained Dr. Pepperberg.

Alex had previously used the label "none" to describe an absence of similarity or difference between two objects, but he had never been taught the concept of zero quantity. "Alex has a zero-like concept; it's not identical to ours but he repeatedly showed us that he understands an absence of quantity," said Dr. Pepperberg.

Historically, the use of "zero" to label a null set has not always been obvious even in human cultures, which in many cases lacked a formal term for zero as recently as the late Middle Ages. The value of number research lies mainly in its ability to help determine the extent of animal cognition and animals' potential for more complex capacities. To that end, Dr. Pepperberg's studies on the avian brain are continuing with research into Alex's ability to count, as well as add and subtract small quantities.

Yet significantly, Dr. Pepperberg's research, which uses a training method called the model-rival technique, also holds promise for teaching autistic and other learning-disabled children who have difficulty learning language, numerical concepts and even empathy.

The model rival technique involves two trainers, one to give instructions, and one to model correct and incorrect responses and to act as the student's rival for the trainer's attention; the model and trainer also exchange roles so that the student sees that the process is fully interactive. The student, in this case, a middle-aged parrot, tries to reproduce the correct behavior. So far, results using this learning technique with small groups of autistic children, taught by Diane Sherman, PhD, in Monterey, CA, have been very promising, said Dr. Pepperberg.

"This kind of research is changing the way we think about birds and intelligence, but it also helps us break down barriers to learning in humans -- and the importance of such strides cannot be underestimated," said Dr. Pepperberg.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brandeis University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Brandeis University. "African Grey Parrot Is First Bird To Comprehend Numerical Concept Akin To Zero." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 July 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/07/050711013845.htm>.
Brandeis University. (2005, July 11). African Grey Parrot Is First Bird To Comprehend Numerical Concept Akin To Zero. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/07/050711013845.htm
Brandeis University. "African Grey Parrot Is First Bird To Comprehend Numerical Concept Akin To Zero." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/07/050711013845.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

Buzz60 (Dec. 17, 2014) Urbanspoon predicts whicg food trends will dominate the culinary scene in 2015. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins