Animal Cognition Laboratory at Luther College

I am interested in studying cognition and intelligence in food-storing birds in the corvid family. I have Clark’s nutcrackers, Western scrub jays and blue jays in my facility. I am interested in three major lines of research.

1) Spatial and episodic-like memory in food-storing birds

I have been studying spatial memory and small-scale navigation in food-storing birds since graduate school in 1992. I have investigated what kind of landmarks or cues food-storing corvids use to find hidden food and how they use these cues (Gould-Beierle & Kamil 1996, 1998, 1999). I have also looked at differences in various forms of spatial memory on an analog radial maze (Gould-Beierle 2000). I have also demonstrated that Clark’s nutcrackers show episodic-like memory after longer retention intervals during cache and recovery of seeds (Gould et al. 2011). 

2) Cognitive abilities in birds of the Corvid family

I am currently interested in three major areas within this line of research. 1) Mirror-induced mark-directed behavior: We have demonstrated that Clark’s nutcrackers and Western scrub jays show mark-directed behavior in the presence of a mirror using a procedure similar to the classic mark test used in children and chimpanzees (Gould et al. in preparation). 2) Means-end tool choice: We are currently conducting research looking at whether blue jays understand means-end aspects of using a cloth and a hook as a tool to pull in inaccessible food. 3) Planning: We are currently conducting research to see if Clark’s nutcrackers are able to plan ahead in a food-caching task. 

3) Neurobiological aspects of spatial memory and general cognition in the avian brain

Neuroscience Lab
Neuroscience Lab

I have been studying the neurobiological correlates of spatial memory in the bird brain since my post-doctoral position in 1997. This research includes volumetric analysis of the hippocampus and septum in parids and corvids related to food-storing (Shiflett et al. 2002; Gould et al. in preparation) and season of the year (Gould et al. in preparation), cell density and size analysis in the hippocampus of corvids (Gould and Gilbertson in preparation), and volumetric analysis of a large Substance P terminal field in the parahippocampus of parids (Gould et al. 2001). We are currently looking at Substance P in corvids as well.

Student Research

Luther psychology majors/minors conduct research with me throughout the academic year and summer. They do this as volunteers, paid research assistants through the dean’s office AAA awards, seniors conducting research for a senior project or recipients of grants through Luther College (Summer faculty/student collaborative research grants) or outside sources (McElroy student research awards). Students who do neurobiological research with me also need to have a good background in biology. Here is a list of some recent student collaborations and presentations:

  • Andrew Hrvol ’10 (Summer faculty/student collaborative research grant), Joe Nelson ’09, Rose Brantner ’10 and Abigail Seyfer ’10 –  No species differences in relative hippocampus and septum volumes among four species of food-storing birds. Presented at Society for Neuroscience conference, Oct. 2009, Chicago.
  • Abigail Seyfer ’10 (McElroy student research award) and Rose Brantner ’10 – Means-end tool use among blue jays using a cloth as a tool; presented at the McElroy Symposium, May 2010, Wartburg College. 
  • Andrew Hrvol ’10 (Summer faculty/student collaborative research grant), Karl Gilbertson ’11, Corey Christensen ’10, Morgan Ames ’11, Cassie Seebart ’12, and Victoria Nelson ‘13 – Mirror-induced mark-directed behaviors in the Clark’s nutcracker and Western scrub jay. Presented at the International Comparative Cognition Conference, March 2010, Melbourne Beach, FL.
  • Rose Brantner ’10 (senior project) and Katie Roberts ’11 – Seasonal differences in hippopcampus and septum volume in the blue jay.
  • Karl Gilbertson conducting cell counting research at Colorado College
    Karl Gilbertson conducting cell counting research at Colorado College
    Karl Gilbertson ’11 (Midstates Consortium Short Term Consultation grant; Summer faculty/student collaborative research grants, senior project) – Neuron density and size differences in five species of food-storing corvids. Presented at the Midstates Consortium Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Biological Sciences and Psychology, Nov. 2010, University of Chicago, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, April 2011, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, and Society for Neuroscience conference Nov. 2011, Washington D.C.
  • Emily Lynn ’13 and Quinn Meyer ‘13– Means-end tool use among blue jays using a hook as a tool.
  • James Flanary ’13 (Summer faculty/student collaborative research grant), Carolyn Wheeler ’12, Kendra Smallwood ’13, and Katrina Okerstrom ’14 - Can Clark’s Nutcrackers plan for the future in a cache-recovery task?
  • Marty Mitchell ’13, Michelle Boursier ’12, Victoria Nelson ’13, Cassie Seebart ’12, Katrina Okerstrom ’14, Victoria Muller-Ewald ’14 – Species differences in parahippocampal Substance P areas among five species of Corvids.