Physical and social cognition in a parrot (Cacatua goffiniana) and ape model species (Pongo abelii)
Department of Anthropology, UCLA
The comparative approach is a powerful tool to deepen our understanding of the adaptive value of complex information processing. Modern approaches of comparative cognition are interested in how cognitive outputs are influenced on the basis of convergence (distantly related species facing similar demands) or on the basis of divergence (closely related species facing different cognitive challenges). Birds diverged from mammals around 280 million years ago resulting in highly characteristic brain structures (nuclear avian brain versus laminar mammalian brain). Since large-brained birds, such as corvids and parrots, often show similar skills in cognitive tasks as primates, it was suggested that these similarities result from a convergent evolutionary trend to cope with similar environmental and social demands. Therefore, comparing the performance of primates and birds on standardized cognitive tasks promises to be particularly telling.
In a series of experiments, I investigated the cognitive abilities of Goffin´s cockatoos and orangutans in the physical domain by the use of decision-making paradigms, novel test designs and by using tests that have previously been conducted in children. My studies use carefully controlled comparative procedures that provide first insights into similarities in tool-related problem solving and innovation between these two distantly related species. As both species tested are important model species for physical cognition and tool-use, aside from the comparative perspective my studies additionally provide important information within the subject of tool-related cognition, as within-species designs. Furthermore, I will present my findings on tool manufacture, memory and social cognition, inequity aversion and prosociality, in the Goffin´s cockatoo in light of recent findings in primate research.