Parrots were smarter than three-year-old children

Cockatoo Goffin quickly learned to select three-dimensional figures suitable for holes of complex shape, proving that they are well versed in the geometric concepts of similarity and symmetry.

Goffin’s cockatoo in nature does not use tools and do not produce them, but in the laboratory they demonstrate tremendous abilities, while inventing ways of solving problems that require the use of relatively complex tools. In a new experiment, cognitive biologists from the University of Vienna and the Vienna Veterinary University proved that the cockatoo possess spatial thinking and have an intuitive idea of ​​similarity and symmetry.
The animals needed to pick up the object so that it passed through a hole in a complex shape. Cockatoo not just coped with the task; to place an object in the hole, they needed fewer attempts than many primates.
The ability to find a correspondence between the shape of three-dimensional objects is required for a person when solving many everyday and professional tasks: insert a key into the keyhole, choose the right screwdriver – all these actions require a skill that begins to develop in the first years of the child’s life. The mastery of this seemingly simple skill requires the appearance of an allocentric point of reference, in other words, the ability to evaluate the spatial position and shape of objects other than one’s own body. The development of the allocentric coordinate system in children precedes the development of skills in handling tools.

Cockatoos choose a figure that fits under the hole in the lid of the box. Credit: Bene Croy
Other important aspects of the task of combining forms – representations of symmetry and similarity. Inserting a disk into a round hole is not difficult, it is more difficult to cope with an asymmetric or symmetric object that is not symmetrical on all axes. Insert the ball into the round hole can babies at the age of one year; It takes 12 more months to figure out the square hole and the cube. At the age of 3-4 years, children begin to turn objects and evaluate their shape before deciding which hole they will fit. The higher primates on such a visual assessment are already incapable.
Austrian scientists used a transparent box with an asymmetrical hole in one of the walls. To get a treat, the parrots had to pick up a figure of a suitable shape and insert it into the hole so that the figure was in the box without any preliminary training. The cockatoo was almost immediately found in a heap of figures suitable to the hole and after a few attempts to insert it almost always succeeded. The shapes of the figures and holes were quite complex – from balls to pyramids and crosses.
This proves that the Goffin cockatoo has an allocentric coordinate system similar to that developed in humans by the end of the second year of life, the authors of the article published in the journal PLOS ONE explain.

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