Dogs are certainly known as our best friend. Recently, studies of dog cognition have become very popular. We are interested in several aspects of canine cognition, including nutritional impacts on cognition, inhibitory control, and human-dog interactions.
Harvie, H., Rodrigo, A., Briggs, C., Thiessen, S. & Kelly, D.M. (2021). Does stress run through the leash? An examination of stress transmission between owners and dogs during a walk. Animal Cognition, 24, 239-250. doi: 10.1007/s10071-020-01460
Our studies of human spatial cognition examine how our ability to accurately navigate through familiar environments change as we age and whether women and men experience these age-related decrements differently. To understand how people use spatial information, we use real-world environments (custom-built rooms or university campuses) as well as immersive and non-immersive virtual reality environments.
Siemens, M. & Kelly, D.M. (2018). Sex differences and the effect of instruction on reorientation abilities by humans. Memory & Cognition, 46, 566-576. DOI: 10.3758/s13421-017-0783-3.
The pigeon is a bird common world-wide. Pigeons have incredible navigational abilities. We use pigeons, particularly those bred to engage in the sport of pigeon racing, to further our knowledge of spatial cognition, brain lateralization and many other cognitive abilities. We also have the capacity to breed and raise pigeons, allowing us to ask questions about cognition across the lifespan.”
Meier, C., Sepehri, P. & Kelly, D.M. (2021). Age affects pigeons’ (Columba livia) memory capacity, but not representation of serial order, during a locomotor sequential-learning task. Scientific Reports, 11, 17162. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-96360-1
The pinyon jay is a highly social corvid species native to North America. Flocks of pinyon jays may contain more than 500 individuals. We use these birds to study sociality and spatial cognition.
Vernouillet, A., Casidsid, H. & Kelly, D.M. (2021). Pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) do not discriminate between pilfering and non-pilfering conspecifics. Learning & Behavior, 49, 23-35. doi: 10.3758/s13420-020-00450-5
California Scrub Jay
The California scrub jay is a relatively social corvid species native to the Pacific coast of North America. They are known to attend to who is watching when they make their food caches. We use these birds to study cache protection strategies and spatial cognition.
Vernouillet, A., Katz, J.S., Leonard, K., Magnotti, J., Wright, A.A. & Kelly, D.M. (2021). Abstract-concept learning in two species of New World corvids, pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) and California scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning & Cognition, 47, 384-392. doi.org/10.1037/xan0000283
The Clark’s nutcracker is a solitary species of the corvid family, found at middle and high elevations within the Western mountain ranges of North America. They are known for their impressive spatial memory associated with food-caching. We study these birds to understand spatial cognition and concept learning.
Kelly, D.M., Leonard, K., & Gibson, B.M. (2021). Adaptive specialization for spatial memory does not improve route efficiency: comparing the ability of Clark’s nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) and pigeons (Columba livia) to solve traveling salesperson problems. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, doi: 10.3758/s13423-021-01946-5
The black-billed magpie is a social corvid species. Black-billed magpies are known to cache perishable and non-perishable food, returning to these stores after days or weeks. We use magpies to study sociality and spatial cognition.
Stow, M.K., Vernouillet, A., & Kelly D.M. (2018). Neophobia does not account for motoric self-regulation performance as measured during the detour-reaching cylinder task. Animal Cognition, 21, 565-574. doi.org/10.1007/s10071-018-1189-8
Mice are a popular study species in for research, particularly in fields such as medicine, neuroscience and psychology (although many others). We use mice to study spatial cognition as they rely more on visual-based cues compared to rats. Our work is done primarily with C57Bl/6 mice, but more recently we have begun to investigate spatial cognition using 3x-Tg mouse models to age-related changes.
Leonard, K., Vasylkiv, V. & Kelly, D.M. (2020). Reorientation by features and geometry: Effects of healthy and degenerative age-related cognitive decline. Learning & Behavior, 28, I124-134. doi.org/10.3758/s13420-019-00401-9
Canine Heartrate and Cortisol Sampling
We use portable monitors (Polar) to study dog’s heart rate responses across situations. For instance, we have examined heart rate responses of dogs (and their owners) when engaged in a casual walk through a familiar neighborhood. We also use Salimetrics salivary cortisol ELISA kits to investigate whether cortisol levels change as dogs experience different environments.
Omni Directional Treadmill and HTC Vive Pro Eye System
Virtual Reality (VR) systems can be used to construct controlled environments to enhance cognitive research. Our Virtuix Omni-directional treadmill in conjunction with the HTC Vive Pro Eye system allows us to examine reorientation strategies in simple and complex environments. Additionally, we have developed a VR replicate of our real-world laboratory environment to examine whether spatial information is used differently in real and virtual tasks.
We have numerous rooms available for studying spatial cognition (or other cognitive processes). Pictured to the left is our largest caching room, which has a raised floor containing a grid of 384 equally-spaced holes for birds to hide food items within sand-filled cups. This room has been used for studies of spatial memory and cognition, such as Travelling Salesman problems. We also have many other rooms and enclosed search spaces (including a rectangular version of the Morris water maze) that are easily adaptable to allow for studies of spatial cognition across species and spatial scales.
We have custom-built computer-controlled operant chambers; one specialized for pigeons and another for corvids. All operant chambers have a touchscreen monitor positioned inside the chamber, internal “house” lights, and automated food delivering systems. Using web cameras, we can monitor the birds as they engage in their tasks from anywhere in the world!
In addition to purchasing adult pigeons from a local racing loft, we have the facilities and expertise to breed and rear our own birds. This allows us the opportunity to address questions about development as well as across the lifespan.