Quantitative Eco/Evo/Etho Discussions

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing: Why Studying Number Concepts and Inference in Grey Parrots is a Continual Process

Irene Pepperberg, Research Associate at the Alex Foundation

Feb 8, 2022
4:00 pm to 5:00 pm | Remote


Grey parrots have shown competence equivalent to or better than five-year-old humans in studies on numerical and inferential tasks. I will present the results from research with Alex on numbers and Griffin on inference by exclusion. Demonstrating such competence took many years and multiple experiments. The data not only provide insight into the cognitive capacities of nonhumans who were performing the tasks, but also into that of the humans who were designing the studies: Researchers must constantly be aware of the complexity of the task being studied, and avoid over-interpreting data or thinking that success on a simple task answers a complex question. Researchers must accept the possibility of alternative explanations of the data, design further tasks to rule out these possibilities, and be eager to search for input from colleagues and laboratories with complementary areas of expertise.

Speaker Bio

Prof. Irene Pepperberg is currently a research associate at The Alex Foundation, specializing in animal cognition, with a particular focus on parrots. She received her BS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by an MA and PhD from Harvard University. Over more than 40 years of research, she has shown that the communicative and problem-solving abilities of grey parrots are comparable to those of nonhuman primates and young children, and her studies have been featured in a variety of popular media outlets alongside many national and international conferences. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, the Animal Behavior Society, and the American Ornithologists' Union. Additionally, she has won Whitehall Foundation, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and Radcliffe Institute fellowships, the 2020 Comparative Cognition Society Research Award, and serves on the editorial boards of four journals.


Soft Math Lab


Irina Tolkova

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