What is it about?

Social complexity may select for socio‐cognitive abilities. The “loose string” task has become a comparative benchmark paradigm for investigating cooperative problem‐solving abilities in many species, thus enhancing our understanding of their evolution. It requires two individuals working together to solve a problem, specifically by pulling the two ends of a string simultaneously to move a reward towards them. A dyad's performance, therefore, depends on the individuals’ ability to coordinate their pulling action. Many species, including corvids and parrots, have been tested in this paradigm, but most appear insensitive to the exact cooperative nature of the task. We tested another parrot species, blue‐throated macaws, to further our understanding of social cognition in psittacids. Five birds were tested with different partners in a dyadic setting. The study included two control conditions examining the cognitive mechanism underlying their seemingly cooperative behaviour.

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Why is it important?

we could demonstrate that blue‐throated macaws are able to solve the loose‐string paradigm; however, they seem to solve the task by following an associatively learnt rule of pulling as fast as possible/pull when hearing a partner, instead of actively coordinating their actions with each other relying on visual or vocal feedback. Future studies need to assess whether the lack of coordination between cooperation partners is due to a lack of an underlying mechanism for cooperation in macaws or rather due to the experimental setup, in particular, the need for high levels of inhibitory control. This is useful for the general advancement of the understanding of animal cognition.


Doing these experiments and writing this article was a great learning process. I hope this article will make people more interested in animal cognition and show the array of possibilities that exist and may exist in the future for this discipline.

University of Sussex

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This page is a summary of: Blue‐throated macaws ( Ara glaucogularis ) succeed in a cooperative task without coordinating their actions, Ethology, October 2019, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/eth.12973.
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