Animal Learning & Behavior

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 107-119

First online:

The role of item- and category-specific information in the discrimination of people versus nonpeople images by pigeons

  • Ulrike AustAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, University of Vienna
  • , Ludwig HuberAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, University of Vienna Email author 


Herrnstein and Loveland (1964, pp. 549–551) successfully trained pigeons to discriminate pictures showing humans from pictures that did not. In the present study, a go/no-go procedure was employed to replicate and extend their findings, the primary focus of concern being to reevaluate the role of item- and category-specific information. The pigeons readily acquired the discrimination and were also able to generalize to novel instances of the two classes (Experiment 1). Classification of scrambled versions of the stimuli was based on small and local features, rather than on configural and global features (Experiment 2). The presentation of gray-scale stimuli indicated that color was important for classifying novel stimuli and recognizing familiar ones (Experiments 1 and 2). Finally, the control that could possibly be exerted by irrelevant background features was investigated by presenting the pigeons with images of persons contained in former person-absent pictures (Experiment 3). Classification was found to be controlled by both item- and category- specific features, but only in pigeons that were reinforced on person-present pictures was the latter type of information given precedence over the former.