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New Research Proves that Cockatoos can Make Logical Decisions

Aug 30, 2015 01:37 PM EDT

Life is all about making choices. As humans, when we are given a certain number of options we are able to logically decide between them. This same cognitive ability has long been studied in animals; recently Goffin cockatoos were found to have the ability to infer by exclusion, researchers say.

According to a news release, Goffin cockatoos are a highly curious species of Indonesian parrots that have extraordinary cognitive capacities. This includes Neophilia, which is the tendency of an individual to explore novel items. Researchers believe that this trait evolved in island species that may face fewer or no predators.

A team of researchers from the University of Vienna and the Messerli Research Institute, at the University for Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, designed a task to test the Goffins' ability to infer by exclusion. The parrots were required to learn to associate a picture with a reward, which was delivered automatically after the birds touched the picture on a touchscreen. However, if the parrots chose the picture next to the touchscreen, there was no reward.

To prove that these cockatoos wouldn't test their curiosity, the unrewarded stimulus was occasionally replaced by novel or unknown stimuli. The birds were only tested for their inference skills after they continually chose the positive stimuli over the negative or novel picture.

"More than half of our cockatoos choose their pictures in a way that clearly indicates the ability of infer by exclusion about rewarded stimuli. However alternative strategies also play an important role in guiding their choices," Mark O'Hara, one of the task developers, said in a statement.

The researcher's further tested the bird's decision making strategies by employing more tests with multiple novel and known picture combinations, where receiving a reward or not varied.

"Considering the cockatoo's capacities in previous tasks we actually expected that they would show inferences by exclusion, but this was the first test if we could detect this ability with our new task," O'Hara explained. "That we could show this sort of reasoning, together with other strategies so nicely, lets us hope that the method will be applicable to many species and ultimately might help us to understand something about the evolution of this ability."

This study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.  

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