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STUDY: Parrots Show Selfless Behavior

In addition to their cleverness, African Grey Parrots are the first non-mammals observed to have social intelligence, suggesting other animals have evolved the ability to act selflessly.

ELIZABETH PRESTON: ‘A series of experiments demonstrated that African grey parrots had something like social intelligence in addition to their cleverness… They’re the first non-mammals observed helping each other in this way, suggesting other animals have evolved the ability to act selflessly. Parrots were already known to be clever. Irene Pepperberg, an animal psychologist, famously taught an African grey parrot named Alex to use over a hundred words and identify shapes and colors. But there are other ways to be smart. Dr. Brucks wanted to test how African greys can relate to one another’s needs.

Dr. Brucks and her co-author Auguste von Bayern tried their experiment on eight African grey parrots. They found that pairs with closer relationships before the experiment — they spent more time preening or feeding each other, for example — were more likely to help one another. Humans, too, prefer to help their friends, Dr. Brucks pointed out. But the parrots also helped others they weren’t as close with. When the researchers repeated the experiment with blue-headed macaws, another type of parrot, the birds only acted selfishly…

The researchers think different social systems in the wild may help explain the different results. African greys live in huge, constantly shifting flocks. It might be important for the birds to immediately build good reputations, so that if they need help in the future — such as extra food, or help chasing off a predator — they’ll get it. Blue-headed macaws live in smaller, unchanging groups. So quickly building up a reputation might not be as important…

Dr. Brucks says only a few apes, though, have acted like the African grey parrots, aiding others with no clear benefit to themselves. What is clear is that humans aren’t the only species that helps each other, Dr. Brucks said. Over hundreds of millions of years of evolving separately, we and the African grey parrots both developed the habit of looking out for a neighbor who needs a walnut’. SOURCE…

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