Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"We used a box with an exchangeable, transparent front featuring a shaped hole at its centre. When an object was successfully inserted through the hole, a collapsible platform inside the box released a tasty nut at the lower end" says Cornelia Habl who conducted the study at the Goffin Lab in Vienna. "The birds selected the correctly shaped objects from a selection of up to five different shapes almost immediately without requiring any training." She continues: "Furthermore, they required fewer placement attempts to align simple shapes (circle, square, triangle) than non-human primates. Another interesting finding was that they turned complex object shapes in a way that would minimise their effort during insertion. For example, a cross shaped object would be turned at 90°, so only two protrusions would have to be inserted instead of four, or an L-shaped object with one protrusion facing forward and backward."

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-11-cockatoos-tool-use-task.html#jCp
"We used a box with an exchangeable, transparent front featuring a shaped hole at its centre. When an object was successfully inserted through the hole, a collapsible platform inside the box released a tasty nut at the lower end" says Cornelia Habl who conducted the study at the Goffin Lab in Vienna. "The birds selected the correctly shaped objects from a selection of up to five different shapes almost immediately without requiring any training." She continues: "Furthermore, they required fewer placement attempts to align simple shapes (circle, square, triangle) than non-human primates. Another interesting finding was that they turned complex object shapes in a way that would minimise their effort during insertion. For example, a cross shaped object would be turned at 90°, so only two protrusions would have to be inserted instead of four, or an L-shaped object with one protrusion facing forward and backward."

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-11-cockatoos-tool-use-task.html#jCp
"We used a box with an exchangeable, transparent front featuring a shaped hole at its centre. When an object was successfully inserted through the hole, a collapsible platform inside the box released a tasty nut at the lower end" says Cornelia Habl who conducted the study at the Goffin Lab in Vienna. "The birds selected the correctly shaped objects from a selection of up to five different shapes almost immediately without requiring any training." She continues: "Furthermore, they required fewer placement attempts to align simple shapes (circle, square, triangle) than non-human primates. Another interesting finding was that they turned complex object shapes in a way that would minimise their effort during insertion. For example, a cross shaped object would be turned at 90°, so only two protrusions would have to be inserted instead of four, or an L-shaped object with one protrusion facing forward and backward."

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-11-cockatoos-tool-use-task.html#jCp

Superior Bird Brains

"Cockatoos are very interesting for this, because they're very playful with objects. [As was one cockatoo producing 'fishing sticks', stripping long slender strips from a wood block in his enclosure]."
"So we had one innovator, [one of the birds named 'Figaro' who spontaneously used sticks to fish out nuts] and a very important aspect of innovation [is] how it can spread in a group."
"This was the interesting thing [that other cockatoos were inspired by Figaro but manipulated the wood in their own way to achieve a similar function]. They were successful and interacting with the materials, but they weren't copying Figaro - they devised their own strategy of obtaining the reward."
"It's very interesting that they come up with this more effective technique. It confirms how innovative and how adaptable this species is to novel problems."
Dr Alice Auersperg, lead researcher, University of Oxford and University of Vienna
Cockatoo stripping a tool from a block of wood (c) A Auersperg
The birds make 'food fishing sticks" by stripping blocks of wood  Photo: A. Auersperg

"It was thought to be an exclusively human ability for a long time [fitting shapes]. Compared to primates, the cockatoos performed very well. [To succeed in various environments] they have to be very, very flexible."
"They did figure out a couple of ways to trick the box. But it was not counted as successful because it was not what I wanted them to do."
"They surprise you every day. Sometimes they outsmart me."
"They are escape artists. They are very, very exhausting in a home environment."
Cornelia Habi, master's student, University of Vienna
The key to a nut
Cornelia Habl Vienna tested Goffin's cockatoos in a tool use task. Credit: University of Vienna

Together with Alice M.I. Auersperg, a researcher at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Ms. Habi conducted a number of experiments with Goffin's cockatoos -- extremely intelligent birds, as they discovered throughout the course of their study. As difficult to credit as it may seem on first hearing, these birds were tasked with identifying and placing square tiles into square holes and then moved on to more complex, asymmetrical shapes to be placed in matching holes. The birds were well motivated since success equated with a treat.

The researchers' study, reported in the journal PLOS One, demonstrated that these highly intelligent birds were capable of improving on the performance of monkeys or chimpanzees in matching shapes to holes of similar pattern. Human babies are capable of placing a sphere into a round hole by age one, but placing a cube properly before age two eludes them. Primates are capable of similar tasks once they've had basic training before they succeed in the use of the experimental apparatus, named a 'key box'.

The birds, on the other hand, required no preparation, they proved able to assess the situation without prior exposure, and yet they excelled at the tasks. The researchers' explanation for the cockatoos' capabilities reasoned that the birds are foragers, taking advantage of whatever food that is available and thus sufficiently adaptable to perform well in some urban areas in Australia. To enable them to succeed, flexibility is a great aid.

Their very flexibility enabled the birds to figure out how they might exceed the parameters of the experiment to find the treat they craved. A video showed one bird tearing a splinter off a chair, using it to pry the apparatus open without having to match a shape to a hole. They are evidently experimentally ingenious. But their clever bypassing of the parameters earned them no kudos. They had to play within the rules of the game to earn their treats. Don't we all?

The key to a nut
The animals had to choose the correct 'key' out of five. Credit: Bene Croy

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