The UK Parrot Society have kindly allowed me to post the article that i wrote for their March edition magazine:
How Clever is Your Parrot?
Is your parrot intelligent enough to earn a university degree? Maybe pretty Polly is even smarter than a chimpanzee? Psychologists at Queen Mary University of London are investigating the intelligence of large-brained birds such as crows and parrots. We compare their problem solving abilities with chimpanzees and children to determine what may have driven the evolution of intelligence in all clever animals, including humans. It won’t surprise anyone who has formed a bond with a pet bird that they are not stupid ‘bird brains’, but able to learn, figure out problems, count and even talk!
Although everyone knows that parrots are clever, especially famous parrots such as Alex, the African Grey studied by Irene Pepperberg, but surprisingly, psychologists have tended to focus their attention on those clever animals that are closely related to us, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and monkeys. Recently, we have found that some pets, especially dogs, are better than apes in solving a number of tasks which require reading their owner’s behaviour and intentions to predict what they are going to do next. We want to remedy this lack of study on parrots by testing how your pet parrot performs on a variety of intellectually stimulating and environmentally enriching food-retrieval tasks, such as whether they can use a tool to get a treat from a tube. This is something that members of the crow family, such as rooks, can do easily.
To investigate intelligence, we want to provide your pet parrots with a number of tasks of varying complexity. We want to know what parrots understand about their physical surroundings, whether they can use tools and how they solve problems to retrieve food rewards. Our tasks should provide an excellent form of environmental enrichment and intellectual stimulation for your pet birds. As an incentive, we have teamed up with The Parrot Society UK to award your pet parrot with certified Pretty Polly-technic qualifications ranging from A levels and degrees through to Masters and PhDs. The type of qualification will depend on your parrot’s progress through the tests and each qualification will be presented as a colourful Pretty Polly-technic Certificate that you can frame and hang on your wall.
Each test will need to be performed a number of times during a session and we would like to give your pet a series of different IQ tests. We therefore require a certain amount of commitment from you in terms of time (about an hour for each session). The number of sessions you take part in will depend on how well your bird does in the tests.
We will eventually publish the test results on the web, post videos and eventually crown the bird with the best performance as the ‘Cleverest Parrot in London’.
If you are interested please contact Jayden van Horik (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) in the Avian Cognition Lab at Queen Mary University of London with details of your species of parrot, your general location in London (we can only test parrots in London at this time) and your potential availability (as we will need to test your parrot at home).