Wednesday, 18 September, 2019

This headbanging cockatoo has 14 different dance moves. Science is intrigued

A sulfur-crested cockatoo the same species as Snowball A sulfur-crested cockatoo the same species as Snowball
Patty Aguilar | 10 July, 2019, 02:02

The study "suggests that dancing to music isn't an arbitrary product of human culture but a response to music that arises when certain cognitive and neural capacities come together in animal brains", said Patel.

The medium sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita eleonora) is not only adorable to watch, the way he busts a move has caused us to stop and rethink the very nature of dance.

During the 23 minutes of music, Snowball's owner was present and offered encouragement in the form of an occasional "good boy", but did not dance. So the team filmed Snowball dancing to the 80s hits "Another one bites the dust" and "Girls just want to have fun", and analysed his movements.

A dancing cockatoo taught itself 14 different dance moves. These included "head-banging", a "body roll" and what researchers dubbed "Vogue", where the cockatoo moves his head from one side of his lifted foot to the other.

"This shows for the first time that another species truly dances to human music, spontaneously and without training, just based on its own development and social interaction with humans", senior author Aniruddh Patel, a psychologist at both Tufts and Harvard universities, told AFP.

"I wish I could dance like Snowball", he added.

The authors of the study, published in Current Biology, questioned how he acquired his dance skills, as the motions didn't appear to be mimicked.

Soon after, the parrot's owner, and a co-author on the new paper Irena Schults, noticed Snowball pulling off movements she hadn't seen before.

The study suggests Snowball may be displaying creativity in his dancing.

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In 2013, a sea lion named Ronan became the first non-human mammal known to move with the music, bobbing her head to the Backstreet Boys.

Traits such as self-awareness, were once thought to be unique to humans. According to a new study from Current Biology, the bird knows 14 distinct dance moves - and the animal dances in a way that's comparable to humans. Parrots and humans are vocal learners that can imitate and learn complex, sequences of movements.

"Humans are the only primates with this ability, which could explain why no other primate shows spontaneous and diverse movement to music", Professor Patel said.

Researchers weren't in a position to rule out then whether or not Snowball had copied the actions of his human owners or if he may adjust his head-bops to completely different tempos.

To analyze Snowball's movements, the study's first author R. Joanne Jao Keehn, a cognitive neuroscientist and a classically and contemporarily trained dancer, used frame-by-frame analysis with the audio muted.

"People are fine listening to music on their own, but when it comes to dancing, people want to do that with friends rather than put music on in their living room and dance by themselves", Patel said.

But nearly nothing - not the dogs and cats we share our homes with, nor the apes and monkeys who are our closest genetic relatives - could do what Snowball does.

The behaviour has led the team to hypothesise that the cockatoo is partaking in creative social behaviour, interacting with his human "flock" on a level that goes beyond basic desires and needs.

She added that, cognitively, moving from imitation to creativity wasn't that hard.

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