Use of experimenter-given cues by African gray parrots (Psittacus erithacus)
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One advantage of living in a social group is the opportunity to use information provided by other individuals. Social information can be based on cues provided by a conspecific or even by a heterospecific individual (e.g., gaze direction, vocalizations, pointing gestures). Although the use of human gaze and gestures has been extensively studied in primates, and is increasingly studied in other mammals, there is no documentation of birds using these cues in a cooperative context. In this study, we tested the ability of three African gray parrots to use different human cues (pointing and/or gazing) in an object-choice task. We found that one subject spontaneously used the most salient pointing gesture (looking and steady pointing with hand at about 20 cm from the baited box). The two others were also able to use this cue after 15 trials. None of the parrots spontaneously used the steady gaze cues (combined head and eye orientation), but one learned to do so effectively after only 15 trials when the distance between the head and the baited box was about 1 m. However, none of the parrots were able to use the momentary pointing nor the distal pointing and gazing cues. These results are discussed in terms of sensitivity to joint attention as a prerequisite to understand pointing gestures as it is to the referential use of labels.
KeywordsAfrican gray parrots (Psittacus erithacus) Gaze Heterospecific communication Object-choice Pointing Referential signals
The authors thank Marie Monbureau and Sarah-Jane Vick for their suggestions on how to improve the manuscript. We thank Syrina Al Aïn, Aurélie Albert, Mathieu Amy, Julie Chébaux, Colette Désaleux, Tudor Dragonoiu, Violaine Garcia-Fernandez, Marion Grand, Philippe Groué, Valériane Jouffroy, Philippe Lenouvel, Alexandre Lerch, Maëlle Parisot, Magali Pasteau and Aurélie Tanvez for taking care of the parrots. Funding for this research was provided by the Sixth PCRD Nest Pathfinder “What it means to be human.” The experiments comply with the French laws concerning animal care.
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