Published on October 8, 2008–Updated on January 26, 2009
The study undertaken by Dr. Dalila Bovet and by Nicolas Giret on African Grey parrots was part of a European project on the origins of referential communication. This project grouped together different Europeans laboratories, including the LECC. These laboratories designed similar studies on other animal species (dogs, dolphins and monkeys) and on human children.
Referential communication corresponds to the ability to convey information about objects and/or events in the environment. Growing studies suggest that referential communication is not restricted to human cognition and could be based on complementary skills with various evolutionary origins. The aim of this study was to identify some of these referential communication skills in African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Studies were conducted on parrot vocal behaviour and their capacity to understand the behaviour of heterospecific communication. Parrots produced particular vocalizations in specific situations, were able to referentially learn French labels, and appropriately and spontaneously used a salient human pointing gesture, but not human gaze (except for one individual), or information provided by conspecifics. Parrots also showed the ability to discriminate discrete and continuous amounts. These studies showed that the communication system of African grey parrots allow them to communicate referentially.