Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Great minds think alike


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!
Further information:

Further reports about: Cognition animals bubbles characteristics creatures explains eyes goldfish humans pigeons

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht New Formula for Life-Satisfaction
01.10.2015 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

nachricht Carbon storage in soils: Climate vs. Geology
14.09.2015 | Universität Augsburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

Im Focus: Simple detection of magnetic skyrmions

New physical effect: researchers discover a change of electrical resistance in magnetic whirls

At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...

Im Focus: High-speed march through a layer of graphene

In cooperation with the Center for Nano-Optics of Georgia State University in Atlanta (USA), scientists of the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität have made simulations of the processes that happen when a layer of carbon atoms is irradiated with strong laser light.

Electrons hit by strong laser pulses change their location on ultrashort timescales, i.e. within a couple of attoseconds (1 as = 10 to the minus 18 sec). In...

Im Focus: Battery Production: Laser Light instead of Oven-Drying and Vacuum Technology

At the exhibition BATTERY + STORAGE as part of WORLD OF ENERGY SOLUTIONS 2015 in Stuttgart, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology ILT and for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS will be showing how laser technology can be used to manufacture batteries both cost- and energy-efficiently.

In the truest sense, it’s all about watts at the Dresden-based Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS and the Aachen-based Fraunhofer...

Im Focus: New Sinumerik features improve productivity and precision

EMO 2015, Hall 3, Booth E06/F03

  • Drive optimization called automatically by the part program boosts productivity
  • Automatically switching the dynamic values to rapid traverse and interpolation...
All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Graphene teams up with two-dimensional crystals for faster data communications

06.10.2015 | Information Technology

Laser-wielding physicists seize control of atoms' behavior

06.10.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

Flipping molecular attachments amps up activity of CO2 catalyst

06.10.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>