Humans and other animals often find it difficult to choose a delayed reward over an immediate one, even when the delay leads to increased pay-offs. Using a visible incremental reward procedure, we tested the ability of three grey parrots to maintain delay of gratification for an increasingly valuable food pay-off. Up to five sunflower seeds were placed within the parrot’s reach, one at a time, at a rate of one seed per second. When the parrot took a seed the trial was ended and the birds consumed the accumulated seeds. Parrots were first tested in daily sessions of ten trials and then with single daily trials. For multiple trial sessions, all three parrots showed some limited improvement across 30 sessions. For single trial sessions, only one parrot showed any increase in seed acquisition across trials. This parrot was also able to consistently obtain two or more seeds per trial (across both multiple and single trial conditions) but was unable to able to wait 5 s to obtain the maximum number of seeds. This parrot was also tested on a slower rate of seed presentation, and this significantly reduced her mean seed acquisition in both multiple and single trial conditions, suggesting that both value of reward available and delay duration impact upon self-control. Further manipulation of both the visibility and proximity of seeds during delay maintenance had little impact upon tolerance of delays for both parrots tested in this condition. This task demanded not just a choice of delayed reward but the maintenance of delayed gratification and was clearly difficult for the parrots to learn; additional training or alternative paradigms are required to better understand the capacity for self-control in this and other species.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Abeyesinghe SM, Nicol CJ, Hartnell SJ, Wathes CM (2005) Can domestic fowl, Gallus gallus domesticaus, show self-control? Anim Behav 70:1–11
Ainslie GW (1974) Impulse control in pigeons. J Exp Anal Beh 21(3):485–489. doi:10.1901/jeab.1974.21-485
Al Aïn S, Giret N, Grand M, Kreutzer M, Bovet D (2009) The discrimination of discrete and continuous amounts in African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) Anim Cogn 12:145–154. doi:10.1007/s10071-008-0178-8
Anderson JR, Awazu S, Fujita K (2004) Squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) choose smaller food arrays: long-term retention, choice and nonpreferred food, and transposition. J Comp Psych 118:58–64
Beran MJ, Evans TA (2006) Maintenance of delay of gratification by four chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): the effects of delayed reward visibility, experimenter presence, and extended delay intervals. Behav Proc 73:315–324
Boysen ST, Berntson GG (1995) Responses to quantity: perceptual versus cognitive mechanisms in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). J Exp Psych: Anim Behav Proc 21:82–86
Clayton NS, Emery NJ (2005) Corvid cognition. Curr Biol 15(23):R946–R950
Dufour V, Pelé M, Sterck EHM, Thierry B (2007) Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) anticipation of food return: coping with waiting time in an exchange task. J Comp Psych 121:145–155
Emery NJ (2006) Cognitive ornithology: the evolution of avian intelligence. Phil Trans R Soc 361:23–43. doi:10.1098/rstb.2005.1736
Emery NJ, Seed AM, von Bayern AMP, Clayton NS (2007) Cognitive adaptations of social bonding in birds. Phil Trans R Soc 362:489–505
Evans TA, Beran MJ (2007a) Delay of gratification and delay maintenance by rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). J Gen Psych 134:199–216
Evans TA, Beran MJ (2007b) Chimpanzees use self-distraction to cope with impulsivity. Biol Lett 22:599–602. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2007.0399
Gilby IC, Wrangham RW (2007) Risk prone hunting by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) increases during periods of high quality diet. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 61:1771–1779. doi:10.1007/s00265-007-0410-6
Giret N, Miklosi A, Kreutzer M, Bovet D (2009) Use of experimenter given cues in African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Anim Cogn 12:1–10. doi:10.1007/s10071-008-0163-2
Grosch J, Neuringer A (1981) Self-control in pigeons under the Mischel paradigm. J Exp Anal Beh 35:3–21
Güntürkün O (2005) The avian ‘prefrontal cortex’ and cognition. Curr Opin Neurobiol 15:686–693
Hare B (2001) Can competitive paradigms increase the validity of experiments on primate social cognition? Anim Cogn 4:1435–1448. doi:10.1007/s100710100084
Heilbronner SR, Rosati AG, Stevens JR, Hare B, Hauser MD (2008) A fruit in the hand or two in the bush? Divergent risk preferences in chimpanzees and bonobos. Biol Lett 4:246–249. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0081
Izawa E-I, Aoki N, Matsushima T (2005) Neural correlates of the proximity and quantity of anticipated food rewards in the ventral striatum of domestic chicks. Eu J Neurosci 22(6):1502–1512. doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2005.04311.x
Jarvis ED, Güntürkün O, Bruce L, Csaillag A, Karten HJ, Kuenzel W, Medina L, Paxinos G, Perke DJ, Shimizu T, Striedter G, Wild JM, Ball GF, Dugas-Ford J, Durand SE, Hough GE, Husband S, Kubikova L, Lee DW, Mello CV, Powers A, Siang C, Smulders TV, Wada K, White SA, Yamamoto K, Yu J, Reiner A, Butler AB (2005) Avian brains and a new understanding of vertebrate brain evolution. Nat Rev Neurosci 6:151–159
Kalenscher T, Pennantz CMA (2008) Is a bird in the hand worth two in the future? The neuroeconomics of intertemporal decision-making. Progress Neurobiol 84:284–315
Kralik JD, Hauser MD, Zimilicki R (2002) The relationship between problem solving and inhibitory control: cotton top tamarim (Saguinus Oedipus) performance on a reverse contingency task. J Comp Psych 116:35–50
Logue AW (1988) Research on self-control: an integrating framework. Behav Brain Sci 11:665–709
Menzel EW (1974) A group of young chimpanzees in a one-acre field: leadership and communication. In: Schrier AM, Stollnitz F (eds) Behavior of nonhuman primates. Academic Press, New York, pp 83–153
Mischel W (1974) Processes in delay of gratification. In: Berkowitz L (ed) Advances in experimental social psychology. Academic Press, New York, pp 249–292
Murray EA, Kralik JD, Wise SP (2005) Learning to inhibit prepotent responses: successful performance by rhesus macaques, Macaca mulatta, on the reversed-contingency task. Anim Behav 69:991–998. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.06.034
Pelé M, Dufour V, Micheletta J, Thierry B (2009) Long-tailed macaques display unexpected waiting abilities in exchange tasks. Anim Cogn. doi:10.1007/s10071-009-0264-6
Pepperberg IM (1999) The Alex studies; cognitive and communicative abilities of grey parrots. Harvard University Press, Cambridge
Pepperberg IM (2006) Grey parrot numerical competence: a review. Anim Cogn 9:377–391
Pepperberg IM, Gordon JD (2005) Number comprehension by a grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), including a zero-like concept. J Comp Psych 119:197–209
Raby CR, Alexis DM, Dickinson A, Clayton NS (2007) Planning for the future by western scrub-jays. Nature 445:919–921. doi:10.1038/nature05575
Ramseyer A, Pelé M, Dufiour V, Chauvin C, Thierry B (2005) The temporal limits of reciprocity in brown capuchin monkeys. Proc R Soc Lond B 273:179–184
Reiner A (1986) Is prefrontal cortex found only in mammals? Trends Neurosci 9:298–300
Rosati AG, Stevens JR, Hare B, Hauser MD (2007) The evolutionary origins of human patience: temporal preferences in chimpanzees, bonobos, and human adults. Curr Biol 17:1663–1668. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.08.033
Silberberg A, Fujita K (1996) Pointing at smaller amounts in an analogue of Boysen and Berntson’s (1995) procedure. J Exp Anal Behav 66:143–147
Sol D, Székely T, Liker A, Lefebvre L (2007) Big-brained birds survive better in nature. Proc R Soc B274:763–769
Stevens JR, Hallinan EV, Hauser MD (2005) The ecology and evolution of patience in two new world monkeys. Biol Lett 1:223–226. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2004.0285
This study was funded by a visiting researcher programme at the University of Nanterre and conducted during research leave granted to S-JV by the University of Stirling. We would like to thank all the staff and students at the Laboratoire d’Ethologie et de Cognition Comparées. We also thank our anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on this manuscript. This study complies with French legislation for animal care and with the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour guidelines (2009) for the treatment of animals in behavioural research and teaching (doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2005.10.001).
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
Vick, S., Bovet, D. & Anderson, J.R. How do African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) perform on a delay of gratification task?. Anim Cogn 13, 351–358 (2010) doi:10.1007/s10071-009-0284-2
- Delay maintenance
- Avian cognition