by Risa Shimmura
In our day to day lives, we make decisions through the statistical, physical, and social information that we are given. Up until now, it was thought that only ape’s do this. However, as it turns out, a certain species of bird from New Zealand can do the same.
New Zealand parrots called Keas turn out to have the same cognitive abilities to be able to do this. This shows the development of intelligence in animals throughout history.
Amalia Bastos, a doctoral candidate in comparative psychology at the University of Auckland, wanted to test if their intelligence stretched beyond this.
The birds were taught that a black token always led to a tasty food pellet; whereas an orange one never did. The scientists placed two transparent jars containing a mix of tokens next to the keas; then removed a token with a closed hand. The birds picked hands dipped into jars that contained more black than orange tokens; even if the ratio was as close as 63 to 57.
Scientists report in today’s issue of Nature Communications that the experiment “provides conclusive evidence” that keas are capable of “true statistical inference.”
In another experiment, researchers showed the keas two jars that each contained an equal number of black and orange tokens. However, the experimenter only reached the tokens located above a solid barrier. Most keas correctly chose hands that had reached into the jar with the greatest ratio of black tokens above that divider. This shows that they based their predictions solely on physical information—the number and relative quantities of tokens above the barrier.
Integration of Social Information
Also, Keas were more likely to take tokens from a researcher who showed a bias for black tokens. This was shocking, as previously, only humans and chimpanzees were known to integrate this type of social information; to make predictions.
Data collected indicates that keas, like humans, have something called “domain general intelligence.” This is the mental ability to integrate several kinds of information. Birds and humans last shared a common ancestor some 312 million years ago and have significantly different brain anatomies.
“If kea really do have these abilities, there’s a good reason they evolved it,” says a researcher. Animals with even basic statistical and predictive skills should be able to estimate amounts of food or the availability of mates. They end up with more offspring and evolutionary success.
If researchers find out how Keas have evolved to think in this way, it could tell scientists more about evolution. Perhaps also allowing them to make predictions for all six kingdoms.