Saturday, September 05, 2009

Biased parrots better at problem-solving than ambidextrous counterparts

Parrots that are strongly right- or left-footed are better at problem-solving tasks than their ambidextrous counterparts, according to a new study.

Lead researchers Maria Magat and Culum Brown at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, worked with eight species of Australian parrot, some of which are primarily left-biased - gang-gang cockatoos, for instance, are 100 per cent left-footed - others right-biased and the rest “ambidextrous”.

They studied their side preference by noting which eye they preferred for looking at food.

During the study, the researchers put the birds to various tasks, including foraging for different seeds sprinkled in a tray of pebbles and raising a hanging seed basket up to their beaks using their claws.

They found that the birds that had a strong bias towards using one side or the other were faster at the tasks than species that showed no preference between left or right.

All animals have cerebral lateralisation, meaning that their brains are divided into two hemispheres responsible for processing different tasks.

Strongly lateralised individuals are strongly “handed” - or strongly “footed” in the case of birds.

“Our study shows that strong lateralisation improves problem-solving ability and foraging in birds, which is an evolutionary advantage,” New Scientist quoted Brown as saying.

“It allows each side of the brain to become specialised at different tasks, so, for instance, the right side of the parrot’s brain can process foraging tasks without being slowed by interference from the left side of the brain,” the expert added.

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