Another few weeks pass, and the high energy continues to pour out of everyone’s heart here at the Pepperberg lab. This energy can be seen especially through the different research projects we’re currently working on. Countless publications ranging from “Alex and Me” to several interviews to published articles in academia have provided our fans and the general public a solid understanding of the extensive research that the Pepperberg Lab has done with the African Greys (Griffin and Arthur). This blog entry aims to update you on the current research being done as well as answer any questions, so if you’re curious about any of the studies you read about, submit a comment and we’ll respond!
We are presently committing most of our “training time” to four projects. By “training time”, we mean the period dedicated to developing Griffin’s vocabulary while explaining to him the connection between what he sees and the name of the object. Much like infants that need explaining for what the color of bananas is or what the general word for nourishment is, i.e. food, Greys need explanations for the concept behind what an object is, and then taught how to vocalize this understanding.
Of the four projects, our “Bigger/Smaller” project shows the most progress. In this test, Griffin is presented with two objects of different sizeand color. The goal of this experiment is to examine whether Greys can distinguish that objects that differ in color and size, and also be able to vocalize which object is bigger or smaller when asked during a session. Griffin already understands the concept of colors and he is starting to grasp the idea of different sized objects, and name which one is bigger or smaller. Overall, the training for Bigger/Smaller is going very well.
One of the new colors we’re teaching him is purple. While Griffin can recognize that the object in front of him is purple, he’s still not able to vocalize completely and clearly the word for purple. This second project will take some time, since Greys learn to pronounce their sounds differently than humans do, and the ‘p’ sound is hard without lips! But once Griffin can confidently vocalize his understanding for the concept of “purple”, we can integrate the color purple into the Bigger/Smaller sessions.
One of the newer projects we started recently is explaining to Griffin the concept of “none”. Griffin already knows certain numbers and how to indicate that shapes have a certain number of corners, but the idea of none is still a pretty new concept to him. This doesn’t surprise us
because mathematicians have extensively analyzed the concept behind “none” and “zero” since its birth in the 9th century AD by the Indians, and they still don’t fully get it! At the moment, Griffin shows great progress, but developing an understanding for the concept and learning how to say the word will take some time.
The final of the four training projects is explaining the idea behind exclusion. Much like learning the process of elimination in Algebra I, where you remove the “wrong” options and consequently increase the possibility of being correct, we believe when presented with many choices, Griffin should be able to differentiate and exclude the wrong answers. Griffin shows an increasing understanding for the concept, and we hope to soon publish a new paper on these findings.
Besides these current studies, we are constantly brainstorming about future experiments, with the hope of one day better understanding these fascinating creatures. A reciprocity paper is in the works to supplement the paper the lab released last Fall.
If you liked what you’ve read, follow our blog! We try to come out with new entries every week or so. You can also be instantaneously updated about our daily activities in the lab via Twitter, which we add to at least every two days. Also, if there’s something that intrigues you about our research that you’d like to learn more about, comment below with suggestions. We do our best to keep you all updated and gladly accept recommendations. To the loyal fans from day one to newcomers joining us now, I thank you for your support and interest in our research, for it is through your efforts that we continue to thrive!
In the lab, when Dr. Pepperberg prepares to leave Griffin and Wart, she says, “Goodbye Griffin and Wart. You be good; I love you”, so in the same spirit, I say goodbye.
You be good,