Animal Cognition: Proceedings of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Conference, June 2-4, 1982

By H. S. Terrace; H. L. Roitblat et al. | Go to book overview

19
DO PIGEONS DECOMPOSE STIMULUS COMPOUNDS?

Donald A. Riley

University of California, Berkeley


I. INTRODUCTION

This chapter has two purposes. The first is to address an important issue in the analysis of delayed matching-to-sample behavior in pigeons. If a pigeon is shown a display on a key containing both color and line orientation information, and has learned that a separate retention test may be given for either attribute, can it detect and store the information about both as efficiently, as either alone, as though it were processing both kinds of information in a parallel fashion, or is the compound processed less efficiently, as though sequentially? Are there conditions in which the relevant information contained in a compound stimulus is obtained as quickly and accurately as the information contained in either element when they are presented alone and others where such information is obtained less quickly and accurately? As we shall see, the answer to this question is revealed by manipulations of the stimulus arrangement and the instructions given the pigeon by the reinforcement contingencies.

The second purpose of this chapter is to comment on the broader problem of the generality of the findings discovered in the Element/Compound matching-to-sample paradigm. It seems likely that when animals, such as pigeons, view the world about them, they perceive objects and discrete events in that world as such, and respond appropriately to them. This position, which will be recognized as a central tenet of Gestalt psychology, asserts that, for pigeons, such objects as pieces of grain, other pigeons, places to roost, etc., are perceived, organized and remembered as units, distinct from the rest of the stimulus surround.

Such assumptions not only agree with common sense, they are also implied by the research of Herrnstein (Chapter 14, this volume) and his associates. Their research has found that pigeons can learn to categorize pictures of object classes, such as people, pigeons, trees, and fish. Because of the positive transfer to new instances of objects of the same class, they have argued that the pigeon must group attributes of objects into wholes or parts of wholes. Although the evidence that pigeons can perform complex categorization is persuasive, it is not yet clear that it is the object properties of these collections of stimuli that control the pigeon's behavior, rather than some other set of simpler stimulus attributes (e.g., intensity). Nor is it yet clear that the principles involved in natural categorizing are the same as those involved in Compound delayed

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