Study finds pigeons and other animals can place everyday things in categories like humans
Pinecone or pine nut? Friend or foe? Distinguishing between the two requires that we pay special attention to the telltale characteristics of each. And as it turns out, us humans aren't the only ones up to the task.
According to researchers at the University of Iowa, pigeons share our ability to place everyday things in categories. And, like people, they can hone in on visual information that is new or important and dismiss what is not.
"The basic concept at play is selective attention. That is, in a complex world, with its booming, buzzing confusion, we don't attend to all properties of our environment. We attend to those that are novel or relevant," says Edward Wasserman, UI psychology professor and secondary author on the paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.
Selective attention has traditionally been viewed as unique to humans. But as UI research scientist and lead author of the study Leyre Castro explains, scientists now know that discerning one category from another is vital to survival.
"All animals in the wild need to distinguish what might be food from what might be poison, and, of course be able to single out predators from harmless creatures," she says.
More than that, other creatures seem to follow the same thought process humans do when it comes to making these distinctions. Castro and Wasserman's study reveals that learning about an object's relevant characteristics and using those characteristics to categorize it go hand-in-hand.
When observing pigeons, "We thought they would learn what was relevant (step one) and then learn the appropriate response (step two)," Wasserman explains. But instead, the researchers found that learning and categorization seemed to occur simultaneously in the brain.
To test how, and indeed whether, animals like pigeons use selective attention, Wasserman and Castro presented the birds with a touchscreen containing two sets of four computer-generated images—such as stars, spirals, and bubbles.
The pigeons had to determine what distinguished one set from the other. For example, did one set contain a star while the other contained bubbles?
By monitoring what images the pigeons pecked on the touchscreen, Wasserman and Castro were able to determine what the birds were looking at. Were they pecking at the relevant, distinguishing characteristics of each set—in this case the stars and the bubbles?
The answer was yes, suggesting that pigeons—like humans—use selective attention to place objects in appropriate categories. And according to the researchers, the finding can be extended to other animals like lizards and goldfish.
"Because a pigeon's beak is midway between its eyes, we have a pretty good idea that where it is looking is where it is pecking," Wasserman says. This could be true of any bird or fish or reptile.
"However, we can't assume our findings would hold true in an animal with appendages—such as arms—because their eyes can look somewhere other than where their hand or paw is touching," he explains.
The study, "Pigeons' Tracking of Relevant Attributes in Categorization Learning," was published in the April 2 print edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition. Funding was provided by the UI psychology department.
Amy Mattson | EurekAlert!
Deadly Japan quake and tsunami spurred global warming, ozone loss
26.03.2015 | American Geophysical Union
When clocks are set forward, life satisfaction declines
26.03.2015 | Sozio-oekonomisches Panel (SOEP)
In an experiment at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists precisely measured the temperature and structure of aluminum as...
The IPH presents a solution at HANNOVER MESSE 2015 to make ship traffic more reliable while decreasing the maintenance costs at the same time. In cooperation with project partners, the research institute from Hannover, Germany, has developed a sensor system which continuously monitors the condition of the marine gearbox, thus preventing breakdowns. Special feature: the monitoring system works wirelessly and energy-autonomously. The required electrical power is generated where it is needed – directly at the sensor.
As well as cars need to be certified regularly (in Germany by the TÜV – Technical Inspection Association), ships need to be inspected – if the powertrain stops...
When an earthquake hits, the faster first responders can get to an impacted area, the more likely infrastructure--and lives--can be saved.
The Atlantic overturning is one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northwards and cold water southwards. Also known as the Gulf Stream system, it is responsible for the mild climate in northwestern Europe.
Scientists now found evidence for a slowdown of the overturning – multiple lines of observation suggest that in recent decades, the current system has been...
Because they are regularly subjected to heavy vehicle traffic, emissions, moisture and salt, above- and underground parking garages, as well as bridges, frequently experience large areas of corrosion. Most inspection systems to date have only been capable of inspecting smaller surface areas.
From April 13 to April 17 at the Hannover Messe (hall 2, exhibit booth C16), engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Nondestructive Testing IZFP will be...
25.03.2015 | Event News
19.03.2015 | Event News
17.03.2015 | Event News
27.03.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
27.03.2015 | Materials Sciences
27.03.2015 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation