The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrotsby Irene Maxine Pepperberg
Pub. Date: 01/28/2000
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Can a parrot understand complex concepts and mean what it says? Since the early 1900s, most studies on animal-human communication have focused on great apes and a few cetacean species. Birds were rarely used in similar studies on the grounds that they were merely talented mimics--that they were, after all, "birdbrains." Experiments performed primarily on pigeons in Skinner boxes demonstrated capacities inferior to those of mammals; these results were thought to reflect the capacities of all birds, despite evidence suggesting that species such as jays, crows, and parrots might be capable of more impressive cognitive feats.
Twenty years ago Irene Pepperberg set out to discover whether the results of the pigeon studies necessarily meant that other birds--particularly the large-brained, highly social parrots--were incapable of mastering complex cognitive concepts and the rudiments of referential speech. Her investigation and the bird at its center--a male Grey parrot named Alex--have since become almost as well known as their primate equivalents and no less a subject of fierce debate in the field of animal cognition. This book represents the long-awaited synthesis of the studies constituting one of the landmark experiments in modern comparative psychology. "Alex's spectacular abilities were sensationalized in the news media, as though it were a talking parrot act. That obscured the significance of the studies, which is why The Alex Studies is important...[Irene Pepperberg has] done groundbreaking experiments, and bringing them together in a panoramic view is a great service...She describes simply what she did, and why and how her results compare with equivalent language-use and comprehension studies on chimps, marine mammals and children...She proves that animals have abilities greater than we are led to expect, but these can be revealed only by appropriate research tools. She succeeds where many others failed, and she convinces us that the details of investigative methods are what matter. He purpose is not to reveal Alex as a winged Einstein. Instead,that match the capabilities investigated. And she demonstrates remarkable parallels between parrots and humans. The core importance of social interaction in both learning and testing is crucial for her results. In that, her studies have relevance far beyond parrots."
-- Bernd Heinrich, New York Times Book Review "It isn't possible to do justice to to the complexity of Pepperberg's experiments in a review, but her work with Alex and other parrots has conclusively shown that they can employ labels and numerical concepts, appreciate relative concepts of sameness and difference and seem to understand the notion of 'none' or zero." --Caroline Fraser, Los Angeles Times Book Review "Pepperberg has elegantly summarized her 20 years of success showing that an African Grey Parrot can match the cognitive and communicative competence of great apes. Her training paradigm involving birds and challenges traditional views of the evolution of intelligence." --Charles T. Snowdon, University of Wisconsin, Madison "Irene Pepperberg's studies of Alex are some of the most remarkable and significant in the whole field of animal cognition. Her evidence stands up to the closest scrutiny, and Alex the parrot turns out to have cognitive abilities that were not even suspected before Pepperberg began her work." --Marian Dawkins, University of Oxford "For researchers in the field of animal cognition, Pepperberg brings together in a well organized form 20 years of her work with Grey parrots. In detailing the training and remarkable achievements of Alex and the other birds in Pepperberg's lab, The Alex Studies makes it clear that parrots are capable of much more than 'parroting' or mechanically mimicking what they hear. But this book makes a much greater contribution. It provides a general integrative framework for the larger field of animal cognition, providing much needed links between important natural behavior selected for by evolutionary processes and theories and data from human cognitive development." --Thomas R. Zentall, University of Kentucky Irene Maxine Pepperberg is Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Associate Professor of Psychology, and Affiliate in the Program in Neuroscience at the University of Arizona. She is the winner of the 2000 Selby Fellowship from the Australian Academy of Sciences and was made a Fellow of the American Psychological Society.
- Harvard University Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- New Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.20(w) x 9.74(h) x 1.37(d)
Table of Contents
2 Can We Really Communicate with a Bird?
3 Can a Parrot Learn Referential Use of English Speech?
4 Does a Parrot Have Categorical Concepts?
5 Can a Parrot Learn the Concept of Same/Different?
6 Can a Parrot Respond to the Absence of Information?
7 To What Extent Can a Parrot Understand and Use Numerical Concepts?
8 How Can We Be Sure That Alex Understands the Labels in His Repertoire?
9 Can a Parrot Understand Relative Concepts?
10 What Is the Extent of a Parrot's Concept of Object Permanence?
11 Can Any Part of a Parrot's Vocal Behavior Be Classified as "Intentional"?
12 Can a Parrot's Sound Play Assist Its Learning?
13 Can a Parrot's Sound Play Be Transformed into Meaningful Vocalizations?
14 What Input Is Needed to Teach a Parrot a Human-based Communication Code?
15 How Similar to Human Speech Is That Produced by a Parrot?
16 How Does a Grey Parrot Produce Human Speech Sounds?
17 Conclusion: What Are the Implications of Alex's Data? Notes
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