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!
Win-win strategies for climate and food security
02.10.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
The personality factor: How to foster the sharing of research data
06.09.2017 | ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research