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Cooperative problem solving in African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus)

Abstract

One of the main characteristics of human societies is the extensive degree of cooperation among individuals. Cooperation is an elaborate phenomenon, also found in non-human primates during laboratory studies and field observations of animal hunting behaviour, among other things. Some authors suggest that the pressures assumed to have favoured the emergence of social intelligence in primates are similar to those that may have permitted the emergence of complex cognitive abilities in some bird species such as corvids and psittacids. In the wild, parrots show cooperative behaviours such as bi-parental care and mobbing. In this study, we tested cooperative problem solving in African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Our birds were tested using several experimental setups to explore the different levels of behavioural organisation between participants, differing in temporal and spatial complexity. In our experiments, African grey parrots were able to act simultaneously but mostly failed during the delay task, maybe because of a lack of inhibitory motor response. Confronted with the possibility to adapt their behaviour to the presence or absence of a partner, they showed that they were able to coordinate their actions. They also collaborated, acting complementarily in order to solve tasks, but they were not able to place themselves in the partner’s role.

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Acknowledgments

We wish to thank Hélène Normand for her help in conducting the experiments. We also thank Philippe Groué, Colette Désaleux, Nicolas Giret, Alexandre Lerch and Marie Monbureau for taking care of the parrots. Lauriane Rat-Fischer drew the illustrations. We thank the anonymous reviewers and Ronald Noë for constructive comments on an earlier version. This experiment was setup within the framework of the ‘Integrating Cooperation Research Across Europe’ project. The experiments comply with the French laws concerning animal care (agreement n° 92–380).

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Correspondence to F. Péron.

Electronic supplementary material

On the video we can see Zoé waiting for his partner. After ten seconds Léo was placed on the table and went and perch. Thus Zoé pulled the string and both birds eat the reward.

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Péron, F., Rat-Fischer, L., Lalot, M. et al. Cooperative problem solving in African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Anim Cogn 14, 545–553 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-011-0389-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-011-0389-2

Keywords

  • African grey parrots
  • Cooperation
  • Synchrony
  • Coordination
  • Collaboration
  • Social cognition