Object manufacture based on a memorized template: Goffin’s cockatoos attend to different model features

I B Laumer*, S A Jelbert, A H Taylor, T Rössler , A M I Auersperg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


Although several nonhuman animals have the ability to recognize and match templates in computerized tasks, we know little about their ability to recall and then physically manufacture specific features of mental templates. Across three experiments, Goffin cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana), a species that can use tools in captivity, were exposed to two pre-made template objects, varying in either colour, size (long or short) or shape (I or L-shaped), where only one template was rewarded. Birds were then given the opportunity to manufacture versions of these objects themselves. We found that all birds carved paper strips from the same colour material as the rewarded template, and half were also able to match the size of a template (long and short). This occurred despite the template being absent at test and birds being rewarded at random. However, we found no evidence that cockatoos could carve L-shaped pieces after learning that L-shaped templates were rewarded, though their manufactured strips were wider than in previous tests. Overall, our results show that Goffin cockatoos possess the ability to physically adjust at least the size dimension of manufactured objects relative to a mental template. This ability has previously only been shown in New Caledonian crows, where template matching was suggested as a potential mechanism allowing for the cumulative cultural transmission of tool designs. Our results show that within avian tool users, the ability to recreate a physical template from memory does not seem to be restricted to species that have cumulative tool cultures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-470
Number of pages14
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2020

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Memory


  • emulation
  • recall
  • matching to sample
  • mental imagery
  • reverse engineering
  • template matching
  • tool manufacture


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