Original Paper

Animal Cognition

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 287-301

Means to an end: Neotropical parrots manage to pull strings to meet their goals

  • Cynthia Schuck-PaimAffiliated withLaboratory of Cognitive Ethology, Department of Experimental Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Sao Paulo Email author 
  • , Andressa BorsariAffiliated withLaboratory of Cognitive Ethology, Department of Experimental Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Sao Paulo
  • , Eduardo B. OttoniAffiliated withLaboratory of Cognitive Ethology, Department of Experimental Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Sao Paulo

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Abstract

Although parrots share with corvids and primates many of the traits believed to be associated with advanced cognitive processing, knowledge of parrot cognition is still limited to a few species, none of which are Neotropical. Here we examine the ability of three Neotropical parrot species (Blue-Fronted Amazons, Hyacinth and Lear’s macaws) to spontaneously solve a novel physical problem: the string-pulling test. The ability to pull up a string to obtain out-of-reach food has been often considered a cognitively complex task, as it requires the use of a sequence of actions never previously assembled, along with the ability to continuously monitor string, food and certain body movements. We presented subjects with pulling tasks where we varied the spatial relationship between the strings, the presence of a reward and the physical contact between the string and reward to determine whether (1) string-pulling is goal-oriented in these parrots, (2) whether the string is recognized as a means to obtain the reward and (3) whether subjects can visually determine the continuity between the string and the reward, selecting only those strings for which no physical gaps between string and reward were present. Our results show that some individuals of all species were able to use the string as a means to reach a specific goal, in this case, the retrieval of the food treat. Also, subjects from both macaw species were able to visually determine the presence of physical continuity between the string and reward, making their choices consistently with the recognition that no gaps should be present between the string and the reward. Our findings highlight the potential of this taxonomic group for the understanding of the underpinnings of cognition in evolutionarily distant groups such as birds and primates.

Keywords

String-pulling Parrots Cognition Problem-solving Tools