Parrot intelligence, new study

This 2015 video says about itself:

Alex the Smart Parrot – Talking bird distinguishes colors, shapes, sizes, numbers

Due to repeated concerns regarding the empty cage shown in the video, it is my impression, after having read her book, that this is where Alex sleeps, like a bed, and that he is mostly perched outside the cage when he is not sleeping. Also, had Dr. Pepperberg taken Alex home with her every night or hung toys in his cage, it would have compromised the study. Enjoy the Genius of Birds.

From the University of Alberta in Canada:

Neuroscientists uncover secret to intelligence in parrots

Study shows evidence of convergence in bird and primate evolution

July 3, 2018

University of Alberta neuroscientists have identified the neural circuit that may underlay intelligence in birds, according to a new study. The discovery is an example of convergent evolution between the brains of birds and primates, with the potential to provide insight into the neural basis of human intelligence.

“An area of the brain that plays a major role in primate intelligence is called the pontine nuclei,” explained Cristian Gutierrez-Ibanez, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology. “This structure transfers information between the two largest areas of the brain, the cortex and cerebellum, which allows for higher-order processing and more sophisticated behaviour. In humans and primates, the pontine nuclei are large compared to other mammals. This makes sense given our cognitive abilities.”

Birds have very small pontine nuclei. Instead, they have a similar structure called the medial spiriform nucleus (SpM) that has similar connectivity. Located in a different part of the brain, the SpM does the same thing as the pontine nuclei, circulating information between the cortex and the cerebellum. “This loop between the cortex and the cerebellum is important for the planning and execution of sophisticated behaviours,” said Doug Wylie, professor of psychology and co-author on the new study.

Not-so-bird brain

Using samples from 98 birds from the largest collection of bird brains in the world, including everything from chickens and waterfowl to parrots and owls, the scientists studied the brains of birds, comparing the relative size of the SpM to the rest of the brain. They determined that parrots have a SpM that is much larger than that of other birds.

“The SpM is very large in parrots. It’s actually two to five times larger in parrots than in other birds, like chickens”, said Gutierrez. “Independently, parrots have evolved an enlarged area that connects the cortex and the cerebellum, similar to primates. This is another fascinating example of convergence between parrots and primates. It starts with sophisticated behaviours, like tool use and self-awareness, and can also be seen in the brain. The more we look at the brains, the more similarities we see.”

Next, the research team hopes to study the SpM in parrots more closely, to understand what types of information go there and why.

“This could present an excellent way to study how the similar, pontine-based, process occurs in humans”, added Gutierrez. “It might give us a way to better understand how our human brains work.”

15 thoughts on “Parrot intelligence, new study

  1. With the comparisons of all the birds’ brains, there is no mention of corvus’ spiriform nuclei. I can’t find anything about it. Just curious if you’ve seen anything.


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