Alex the Parrot

February 4, 2009

So this little guy came up in my history of psychology class today. A fascinating story about a parrot who is able to do basic reasoning and communication.  Alex has a variety of phrases and things he recognizes.  These include various colors, foods, and numbers.  Also when he gets tired of the questions he asks to go back to stop working.  You can read one linguists analysis here, he thinks Alex is a bit overrated.  One comment that came up in the class (we were discussing whether this means humans and animals are similar) was the idea that the parrot has to be taught language, wheras a human child will pick up language whether they want to or not.  I didn’t mention it in class, but it kind of reminded me of Clever Hans, the horse who could do arithmetic.  In the end, it turned out Clever Hans was only picking up clues as to what the questioner wanted him to say, not actually figuring it out.  I wonder if this is a similar case.

In this video you see Alex at work.  I love how he has to be asked the question repeatedly, I think maybe Alex the Parrot has A.D.D.  He seems to have trouble staying on task.


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