Psychological Research

, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 199–212 | Cite as

Visual symmetry recognition by pigeons

  • Juan D. Delius
  • Brigitte Nowak


Pigeons learned to discriminate a large number of bilateral symmetric and asymmetric visual patterns successively projected on the pecking-key of an operant conditioning chamber. Responses to the positive stimuli were reinforced according to a variable interval schedule. Once acquisition was complete generalization trials, involving sets of new stimuli, were instituted under extinction. The birds classified these novel test stimuli with high accuracy throughout, according to their symmetry or asymmetry. Their performance was not disturbed by sets of test stimuli whose geometrical style differed considerably from the training stimuli. Pigeons were even able to discriminate when only allowed the use of one eye. The generalization series were partly designed to test some classical symmetry recognition theories. None was found to be adequate. Subsidiary experiments suggested that most pigeons have a slight spontaneous preference for asymmetric patterns and that symmetry/asymmetry differences can aid pattern discrimination learning at an early stage. It is concluded that pigeons, much like humans, can discriminate bilaterally symmetric from non-symmetric visual forms in a concept-like, generalizing way. The ontogenetic and phylogenetic development of this competence is considered. A novel symmetry recognition hypothesis based on spatial frequency analysis and neuronal feature-detector considerations is proposed.


Test Stimulus Training Stimulus Conditioning Chamber Classical Symmetry Interval Schedule 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH & Co. KG 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan D. Delius
    • 1
  • Brigitte Nowak
    • 1
  1. 1.Experimentelle TierpsychologiePsychologisches InstitutBochumGermany

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