Monday, November 1, 2010

Alex

Alex the African Grey Parrot was one of the most extraordinary birds to have ever lived. In 1977, animal psychologist Dr. Irene Pepperberg started an experiment to test the intelligence of parrots, and her first subject was Alex, a one-year old bird from an ordinary pet shop in Chicago.

(Image Source)
Previous to this project, it was believed that the brain's of birds were not capable of complex problem solving and speech formation; that their words were only the result of mimicry. Alex proved all of that wrong. He had a vocabulary of 150 words, including 50 objects and quantities up to the number six. He was capable of understanding concepts like number, shape, material, and color, and could compose short phrases to express responses and wants. He was even able to express frustration, both with repetitive research tasks and with incorrect responses given by his fellow parrots in the project. Alex also remarkably had a basic understanding of the the concept of zero. When asked about the differences between two objects that were exactly the same, Alex would respond that there were none. The video below shows some of the skills that Alex came to learn.

Alex died suddenly and unexpectedly on September 6th, 2007 from arteriosclerosis. His health check earlier in the week had given him a clean bill of health and shown normal asper and cholesterol levels, making his death especially tragic and out of no where. Even more depressing is the fact that his last words to Pepperberg the night before were "You be good. I love you." Alex is survived by two other birds within the project, Griffen and Arthur, though they are much younger and less advanced.

Dr. Pepperberg published a memoir about Alex and his accomplishments, titled Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process in 2008.

1 comment:

  1. I love, love, love, LOVE Alex! He was just so awesome. It's so sad that he died. I'm going to buy that book sometime soon.

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