Summer Scholar Angelo d’Antonio-Bertagnolli ’18, a psychology major/chemistry minor from Mt. Laurel, New Jersey is spending much of his summer hanging out with fabled characters from Greek mythology. The antics of Achilles, Hector, Helen, Andromeda, Perseus, Medea, Jason, Narcissus, Penelope, Ariadne and Atalanta, fill his days and some of his nights.
Though it might be expected from his companions’ names, he’s not writing a classics paper. Rather, the subjects of his study are members of a small colony of 11 budgerigars (m. undulatus) housed in an aviary in Post Hall. Known more commonly as parakeets, or sometimes, budgies, this league of 11 were named from the Greek canon by Angelo’s mentor Matthew Anderson, Ph.D., associate dean of social sciences, an experimental psychologist who specializes in animal behavior.
Angelo’s Summer Scholar project is involving him in investigating the lateral preferences the small parrots exhibit and how these relate to subsequent performance in problem solving tasks, meaning he’s examining whether or not an individual budgie might use their right or left leg when scratching or perching — think handedness in people — and whether such preferences predict ability to achieve a goal.
“Studying laterality is interesting because it’s applicable to humans to some degree — people are left-footed or right-handed, for example — but overall, I’m hoping that this project will reveal some broad implications for avian behavior,” says Angelo, who is also the Speaker for the SJU Student Senate, plays lead guitar in SJU’s Jazz Band, and has earned Dean’s List honors for each semester he’s been a student at Saint Joseph’s.
Well known for his laterality research with flamingos, Dr. Anderson says that once they know a little bit more about how laterality works in the budgie, [which is somewhat understudied], he and Angelo might be able to infer possible evolutionary functions and reasons why the behavior shows up in other species.
“This research could help us make sense of bigger behavior questions,” Dr. Anderson says.
Guided by Dr. Anderson during the 2015-16 academic year, Angelo developed a sophisticated three-part study of the birds that begins with observations of side preferences. When that’s complete, he’ll test the colony on a tool-use task, and finally, train the birds to dig for food, testing their ability to remember which sand-filled cup contains the seeds that make up the birds’ diet.
“Angelo’s Summer Scholar proposal required him to write a protocol for the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, design an ambitious project and conduct a comprehensive literature review,” says Dr. Anderson. “It’s really akin to a master’s level thesis.”
Which, Angelo says, is what inspired him to apply for the Summer Scholars Program.
“It wouldn’t be possible for me to run this study during the school year unless I was a graduate student,” Angelo adds. “As a Summer Scholar, I don’t have to study for tests and follow another person’s deadlines. I’m able to pursue my own research interests, and hopefully, I’ll complete a publishable project.”
And being up close and personal all summer with mythological figures, even if they are of the feathered variety, is a bonus.
–Patricia Allen ’13 (M.A.)
Office of University Communications
Summer Scholars Project Title: “Analysis of the Relationship Between Degrees of Hemispheric Lateralization and Cognitive Ability in Budgerigars Through Problem Solving Tasks”
Mentor: Matthew Anderson, Ph.D., associate dean of social sciences
High School: Saint Augustine Preparatory School, Richland, New Jersey