Symbolic Communication in the Grey Parrot

Irene M. Pepperberg

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738182
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Symbolic Communication in the Grey Parrot

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For over 30 years, I have used a modeling technique (the model/rival or M/R procedure) to train Grey parrots to use an allospecific code (English speech) referentially, and then employed the code to test their cognitive abilities. The oldest bird, Alex, labeled 〉50 objects, seven colors, five shapes, quantities to eight, three categories (color, shape, material) and used “no,” “come here,” “wanna go X,” and “want Y” (X, Y being appropriate location or item labels). He combined labels to identify, request, comment on, or refuse 〉150 items and to alter his environment. He processed queries to judge category, relative size, quantity, presence or absence of similarity/difference in attributes, show label comprehension and a zero-like concept; he demonstrated some understanding of phonological awareness, and numerical competence more comparable to that of young children than to nonhumans. His requests were intentional. He consequently exhibited capacities presumed limited to humans or nonhuman primates. Younger birds are acquiring similar competence.

Keywords: Parrot cognition; parrot intelligence; avian intelligence; avian referential communication; parrot referential communication; avian social learning

Article.  17908 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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