The African gray parrot (Psittacus erithacus) has the ability to live more than 50 years, memorize many English words, and if given the opportunity, can beat a whole group of Harvard students in the game of memory.
Well, at least there’s a gray parrot. The name of the parrot is Griffin, and he is the subject of a recently published study May 6 in Scientific Reports. The researchers challenged Griffin on a memory task, namely that the parrot would have to be stuck in a pom-pom (colorful cotton / cotton tuft) under a plastic cup after being been exchanged back and forth on the table several times. In this competition, the Griffin parrot drew or won 21 Harvard students in 12 of the 14 rounds.
“Think: gray parrots defeat Harvard students. How amazing is that, ”, lead author of the study, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, Hrag Pailian. “We gathered students from all fields from engineering to medicine, and the parrot simply defeated them completely.”
To be fair, Griffin is not a “normal” parrot. According to the study authors, the bird is 22 years old “Has been the subject of cognitive and communication studies since adoption at 7.5 weeks of age”. Griffin caregiver – psychologist, research co-author, Irene Pepperberg – previously taught about 30 English words to the parrot, and made him understand the meaning of these words, including the names of the colors . Therefore, Griffin does not need any special training to learn how to play this game. Pepperberg played samples for the parrot just a few times, not unlike his human opponents.
Besides Harvard students, 21 children (ages 6 to 8) participated in the game. All adults (and parrots) participating in the experiment will play 120 rounds of this game, while for children it is 36 rounds, divided into 14 challenges on an increasingly difficult level. First of all, participants will be asked to remember the location of only 2 cotton balls hidden under 2 cups that have not been moved. But by the end of the day, the attendees will have to watch the movement of four different colored puffs under 4 cups swapped randomly to 4 times. After that, attendees will have to answer which colored cotton balls under which cups.
Griffin is joining the game
Griffin was able to correctly identify the pom-pom with much greater accuracy than the young group in all 14 rounds. When the Harvard students began to struggle in the round with three pom-pom is swapped 3-4 times, Griffin parrot still has 100% accuracy. Only at the end of the day, when four rounds of pom-pom were swapped 3-4 times, the accuracy of Griffin went down. (The accuracy of the students also dropped significantly in this round, though not as much as Griffin.)
So, what does this parrot brain study tell us about cognitive ability? According to the researchers, both the participants (and the birds) used a short-term memory, called “manipulation,” to complete challenges. Not only are they able to remember which pom-pom is under the cup when not visible, they can also process this information after the cups are swapped around. The fact that a parrot capable of surpassing 42 attendees may be a clue to its ability to manipulate an ancient evolutionary skill, dating back to a common ancestor many millions of years ago.
Despite being defeated by a bird in the game, every Harvard student will continue to have all rights in the Ivy League education. Griffin parrots are only rewarded with a bit of dried cashews, the researchers said.