JOUR FIXE with Gyula Gajdon

Puzzle Boxes for a Puzzle Mind: Flexibility and Problem Solving in a Mountain Parrot



Thorpe’s definition of insightful problem solving excludes explorative acquisition of solutions and postulates that new problems have to be solved correctly on first demand. However, during ontogeny, such competences usually develop in a highly explorative context. In fact, playful object exploration, if assembled with some form of advanced sensorimotor intelligence and neophilia provides an excellent surrogate to produce environmental variation from which functional characteristics and novel solutions can be determined actively. Here, I show that kea posses such an assembly of traits. These New Zealand mountain parrots are renowned for their playful cleverness and problem-solving abilities. I will review a number of mechanical problems we offered kea in lab and field and I will show the way their behavioural flexibility may even include acquisition of tool use behaviour. Much of the kea’s interactions with objects seem to engage in producing novel information. Thus, the kea’s mind fits to the cognitive buffer hypothesis postulating that large brains facilitate the construction of novel or altered behaviour by means of domain general cognitive processes rather than to perform insightfully.


Gyula K. Gajdon is senior scientist and head of the Kea Lab at the interuniversity Messerli Research Institute housed at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. He studied zoology at the University of Zurich, did a documentary film on primate behaviour, and received his doctoral degree from the ETH Zurich for a thesis on chicken behaviour before he stated to establish field and lab research on kea for the University of Vienna ten years ago. Gajdon teaches animal behaviour and cognition. His main research interests are how animals explore, innovate and learn about their non-social environment and the impact of environmental conditions, sensorimotor development and social settings.


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Fact Box

JOUR FIXE with Gyula Gajdon
March 02, 2012, 18:00h