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News Report Page 11 of 53
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Parrots make complex economic decisions to maximise rewards

PARROTS are capable of making economic decisions to receive greater rewards, according to a new study from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. This ability is considered cognitively complex and could shed some light on how parrots in the wild make decisions about how they interact with their environment.

Economic decision making involves weighing up differently beneficial alternatives to maximise payoff. This sometimes requires foregoing one's desire for immediate rewards. This ability to delay gratification and make the correct economic decision is considered cognitively challenging because it requires not only controlling one's impulses, but also assessing the value of different options to decide whether waiting is worthwhile. Now, a team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology has been investigating whether parrots can make economic decisions, too.

The birds were initially taught how to trade three different types of token for food of either low, medium or high value. Subsequently, they were given the choice between an instant food reward and one of the tokens. The parrots only rejected the immediate reward and chose the token if the token's value corresponded to higher quality food, demonstrating an ability to inhibit their immediate impulses for greater reward in the future.

These results show that parrots are capable of deliberate and profit maximising decisions. Dr Auguste von Bayern, leader of the Comparative Cognition Group, said:- "Given that wild parrots are so difficult to track, to date we know little about the ecological challenges most parrots encounter in their habitats in the wild, such as deciding where to go and how long to stay in a given feeding site. However, in our experimental setting we have found that they are capable of making surprisingly subtle decisions to maximise their payoff while minimising their effort. This is a fascinating indication that such decisions may matter greatly in their natural environment."

At the same time, the results provided evidence that certain motivational factors can influence decision-making. For some individuals in the experiment, the token itself apparently had an intrinsic value that prevented them from choosing economically in control tasks. This finding will have to be taken into account when planning future token exchange studies with parrots.

The results of this study will be published online in Scientific Reports. Read the full paper here.

Parents pay back to School bill with loose change and kids' savings

MUMS and dads in the North West are battling the stress and soaring cost of back to School shopping by hunting for loose change down the back of the sofa; and even borrowing from their own children.

A Coinstar back to School survey among UK parents shows 73% of parents in the North West say they find the process of shopping for new School kit stressful; and expect to spend an average of ₤250 per child to return to School.

Parents in the North West say they foot the bill for the new term by going into overdraft (32%), borrowing from grandparents (27%) and dipping into their children's savings (14%). 47% of mums and dads in the North West say they would cash in spare change found around the house to make sure their kids start School with the correct kit. And the majority (82%) fear they will be hit in the pocket again during the year to cover the cost of School projects and trips; with an average of ₤285.

Parents in the North West say rising costs and peer pressure to keep up with the latest trends fuels back to School stress.

The Coinstar survey, carried out by Atomik Research, reveals 66% of parents in the North West of England say School costs are rising and 38% say they have to cut back on household essentials to foot the back to School bill.  54% of parents say they and their kids suffer from peer pressure to buy the most fashionable clothing to start the new academic year. 67% of parents of children aged 16 to 18 say their kids are the most likely age group to face peer pressure when shopping for new uniform compared to 47% of those aged 5 to 7.

67% of parents in the North West say clothing is the biggest expense they face when their kids go back to School, followed by extracurricular fees (16%). 57% parents rely on the big supermarkets to supply their back to School list, while 49% say they use specialist School uniform stores and 20% shop online.

Mums and dads in the North West have different spending behaviour when it comes to back to School shopping. 46% of mums in the North West say they are considering or will use spare change to buy School supplies compared with 48% of dads. Mums are more laid back than dads when it comes to shopping for back to School, with 69% of women saying they find the experience stressful compared with 81% of men.

Dads in the North West cannot be swayed by their kids when back to School shopping; 45% of men said they overspent whether or not they had their kids with them. But mums should shop alone as 28% said the blow the budget when shopping alone compared with 35% who say they overspend when accompanied by their children.

Nick Harris, vice president of European operations, Coinstar Limited, said:- "back to School shopping can put stress on household finances, especially as costs rise.  The Coinstar survey revealed that British parents are resourceful and are finding ways to meet this budget challenge."

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