Sunday, February 27, 2011

Animal Cognition & The Genius Parrot

In my previous post Osteoarthritis, Cognition and Animal Healthcare I raised some questions about animal cognition - basically how can we understand what animals know and how they think? In my zoology class we are studying animal cognition, and we watched a really interesting video of Alex the African Grey Parrot, who is famous for the cognitive abilities he demonstrated when asked complex questions. 

Alex died in 2007 (check out his obituary in the New York Times,) but prior to his death he was the subject of very interesting work by Dr. Irene Pepperberg at Brandeis University (she is also an associate researcher at Harvard University) and the subject of her book Alex and Me. Even though it isn't new research, I wanted to share the video of Alex going through some of the cognition tests, because I hadn't seen it before, and I was pretty impressed by just how much he knew. 

Since Alex's death researchers in Pepperberg's laboratory are working with other parrots. Although, cognitive abilities as extensive as Alex's haven't been reported. Alex shows us what parrots are capable of, but I can't help but wonder if he showed the highest boundary of what parrots can learn and most parrots are not as smart, or if it really is just a matter of training parrots to communicate with us. 

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