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Harvard Students Beaten in Classic Memory Game by a Parrot

Harvard Students Beaten in Classic Memory Game by a Parrot

“We had students concentrating in engineering, pre-meds, this, that, seniors, and he just kicked their butts.”

Parrots are scary-smart birds. I find this story absolutely hilarious.

Live Science reports:

This parrot beat 21 Harvard students in a classic memory game

African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) can live more than 50 years, memorize dozens of words in English and, if given the chance, outsmart a flock of Harvard students in a classic Shell Game.

Well, one grey parrot can, anyway. His name is Griffin, and he is the subject of a recent study published May 6 in the journal Scientific Reports. Researchers challenged Griffin to a working memory task where he had to locate a colorful pom-pom hidden under a plastic cup after it was shuffled around a table several times (aka, the Shell Game). Meanwhile, 21 Harvard students were given the same task — and Griffin matched or outperformed them in 12 of 14 trials.

“Think about it: Grey parrot outperforms Harvard undergrads. That’s pretty freaking awesome,” lead study author Hrag Pailian, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, told The Harvard Gazette. “We had students concentrating in engineering, pre-meds, this, that, seniors, and he just kicked their butts.”

To be fair, Griffin is not your average parrot. According to the study authors, the 22-year-old bird “has been the subject of cognitive and communicative studies … since his acquisition from a breeder at 7.5 weeks of age.”

Griffin’s handler and bird-mom, Irene Pepperberg — a Harvard psychologist and co-author of the new paper — previously taught the parrot to reproduce some 30 English words and to comprehend at least 40, including the names of colors. As such, Griffin didn’t need any special coaching to learn the Shell Game — Pepperberg merely demonstrated a few sample rounds for him, just as she did for Griffin’s human competitors.

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Comments

This sounds suspiciously speciesist.

Considering that Harvard boasts the Tik-Tok Stab Girl, David Hogg, and the People Who Lose to Parrots (PWLTP), it looks like that their admission standards have dropped too low. Maybe that’s why they’ve decided to become an online college.

notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital | July 13, 2020 at 2:59 pm

But was it a minority parrot????????

We loved our Grey, and had intentions of passing him down to our grand-kids, but alas, he died of kidney failure after five years.

He was a stone-cold mimic. He was kept outside my office, and he would do the phone ring and me answering it so perfectly that the wife would swear I was on the phone. He was across the house from the driveway, yet when my wife pulled up in the car he would start in shouting, “Mom’s home.” When I pulled up in the same car he would ignore it. He’d let us know each night when he was ready for bed by telling us, Goodnight, sleepyhead. We also taught him how to whistle the parts of many pop songs such as Love Letters in the Sand.

Think about it: Grey parrot outperforms Harvard undergrads. That’s pretty freaking awesome

I’ll bet Griffin can out-fly anybody at Harvard, too. And flight’s a lot more f’n awesome than watching a shell move around.

Research in the ’50s showed that pigeons are more attentive than humans. They excell at dull, repetitive recognition tasks which would lull anything smarter into a near-comatose state. It caused a lot of tittering at the time—oh, yuk yuk, pigeons are smarter than humans, etc. But back the labs there was some talk of using them in factories to watch assembly lines and signal when something was amiss, like one shampoo bottle out of tens of thousands fallen off a conveyor belt. But there are better (translation: cheaper) ways to do that. Then there was research into using pigeons or other birds for missile guidance; they could peck at a CRT screen where a target they’d been trained to recognize appeared, thus telling the missile where to go to blow it up. But pattern recognition software advanced, pigeons didn’t, and pattern rec software is easier to keep alive in orbit for years at a stretch.

But yes, African Grays are plenty smart, probably smart enough to avoid Harvard and flap two miles down Mass Ave to MIT, if they have to stay in Cambridge at all. They have a distressing habit of dropping dead just when they seem to be learning something, though.

Iain Sanders | July 13, 2020 at 4:39 pm

Certainly a feather in his cap.

Griffin has been tested and found to have the cognitive abilities of a three to three-and-a-half year old child. So what does that say about the Harvard admissions process?
https://youtu.be/BG-0Bpe0J34

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