Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

African grey parrot is first bird to comprehend numerical concept akin to zero

11.07.2005



Ground-breaking research is reshaping understanding of the avian brain and holds promise in teaching 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.

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.

Gardner | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.brandeis.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How gut bacteria can make us ill
18.01.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

nachricht Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs
16.01.2017 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How gut bacteria can make us ill

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

On track to heal leukaemia

18.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle

17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>