Kea parrots have more to offer than just good
looks. New research suggests they have the ability
to discern statistical probability. In the experiment, they first learned that
black clothes pins could be exchanged for food, while orange ones were worthless. Two jars were presented to the kea:
The first containing a majority of black pins, the second a majority of orange.
The kea consistently chose from researchers’ hands that picked from the first jar.
Even when the number of pins were the same in both jars, Kea selected according to probability. Another test examined the kea’s skill at
discerning the effect of barriers in the jars. Two jars with barriers were presented, containing
an equal total of black and orange pins. But one of the jars had a higher proportion
of black pins above a barrier. Kea tended to select the hand that picked
from that jar. When a 1:1 ratio of orange and black pins
were present above the barrier, the kea still selected the pins taken from the jar with
more black pins on top. Infants and apes demonstrate similar statistics
skills. And the results of the study hint at a common
thread between their brains and those of kea. A find that could impact the comparison of
brain structures among animals and, possibly, inform the study of artificial intelligence.