Are parrots poor at motor self‐regulation or is the cylinder task poor at measuring it?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The ability to inhibit unproductive motor responses triggered by salient stimuli is a fundamental inhibitory skill. Such motor self-regulation is thought to underlie more complex cognitive mechanisms, like self- control. Recently, a large-scale study, comparing 36 species, found that absolute brain size best predicted competence in motor inhibition, with great apes as the best performers. This was challenged when three Corvus species (corvids) were found to parallel great apes despite having much smaller absolute brain sizes. However, new analyses suggest that it is the number of pallial neurons, and not absolute brain size per se, that correlates with levels of motor inhibition. Both studies used the cylinder task, a detour-reaching test where food is presented behind a transparent barrier. We tested four species from the order Psittaciformes (parrots) on this task. Like corvids, many parrots have relatively large brains, high numbers of pallial neurons, and solve challenging cogni- tive tasks. Nonetheless, parrots performed markedly worse than the Corvus species in the cylinder task and exhibited strong learning e ects in performance and response times. Our results suggest either that parrots are poor at control- ling their motor impulses, and hence that pallial neuronal numbers do not always correlate with such skills, or that the widely used cylinder task may not be a good measure of motor inhibition.


External organisations
  • Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Behavioral Sciences Biology


  • Inhibition (Psychology), Parrots
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1137-1146
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number6
Early online date2017 Sep 19
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Nov
Publication categoryResearch