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A Review of the Effects of Social Interaction On Vocal Learning in African Grey Parrots (Psittacus Erithacus)

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

Studies on vocal learning must examine not only what is learned but also how the form of input affects the learning process. Research on learning suggests that input is acquired most readily if it is 'natural'-what psychologists term referential, contextually applicable, and socially interactive. Specifically, researchers have shown that what is learned, when it is learned, and how the learned material is used can be affected by the extent and form of the social interaction between tutor and pupil. Studies on humans and some oscine songbirds provide specific examples. My studies on African Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) demonstrate that social interaction is important for vocal learning even in a mimetic species. Preliminary data show that in the early stages of learning Grey parrots will not acquire an allospecific code from exposure to video or audio input but will readily learn from human tutors. The extent of learning from human tutors is demonstrated by the accomplishments of the parrot Alex, who uses an allospecific code, English speech, to request, refuse, identify, categorize, and quantify over 100 different objects, and to process numerous different questions in order to make judgements about quantity, the similarity and difference of attributes, or the relative size of objects.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA


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