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The ability to cooperate with each other has given humans one of the key advantages in the colonization of this planet. What about other species? Do they have cooperative abilities as well? RUSSELL GRAY and his fellow researchers have investigated this particular question observing keas, a New Zealand bird known for its playfulness and inquisitiveness. The researchers designed three experimental set-ups that tested the birds’ ability and willingness to cooperate with each other as well as the underlying cognition of the process. As Gray explains in this video, the experiments showed that that the keas’ behavior was not just governed by rote learning but that they could adjust their behavior depending on the situation, thus waiting for another bird to solve the situation. These findings suggest that a less anthropocentric look at the nature of relationships within groups is needed in order to understand the evolution of complex cognitive abilities such as collaboration.


Russell Gray is Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, as well as Adjunct Professor at the Research School of Social Sciences of the Australian National University in Canberra. His research covers the fields of linguistics, animal cognition, philosophy of biology and the evolution of human and animal behavior. He also pioneered the application of computational evolutionary methods to questions of linguistic prehistory.
Russell is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and has been awarded their Mason Durie Medal in 2012 “for his pioneering social science research on questions of fundamental relationships between human language, cognition and biology”.


Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology

The Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology (MPI-GEA) focuses on the interrelationships between natural and human-made systems, looking into the deep past and distant future to examine how humanity has driven the emergence of the Anthropocene – the geological period in which human activities began significantly impacting our planet’s climate and ecosystems – and how we can still positively influence its course.

The transdisciplinary research at MPI-GEA will bring together research areas represented by all three scientific sections of the MPG: Biology & Medicine; Chemistry, Physics and Technology; and Human Sciences. Corresponding inter- and transdisciplinary research projects concern, for example, planetary urbanisation, the global food system, and global material, energy and information flows.

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Original publication

Keas Perform Similarly to Chimpanzees and Elephants when Solving Collaborative Tasks

Gray Russell D., Heaney Megan and Taylor Alex H.
PloS one
Published in 2017