Animal Cognition

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 653–661 | Cite as

A positional coding mechanism in pigeons after learning multiple three-item lists

Original Paper


Pigeons were trained on three three-item lists (List 1: A1 → B1 → C1; List 2: A2 → B2 → C2; List 3: A3 → B3 → C3). After sessions in which any one of the three lists could be presented on a trial, derived-maintained list and derived-changed list probe trials were introduced. The derived list probe trials were composed of three items, one drawn from each of the training lists. On derived-maintained probe trials, each item was in the same ordinal position it occupied during training (e.g., A3 → B1 → C2). On derived-changed probe trials, items that occupied the second and third position during training were exchanged (e.g., A2 → C3 → B1). The performance of subjects on derived-maintained probe trials was significantly above chance and no different to that observed on the training lists. In contrast, subjects’ performance on derived-changed probe trials was significantly below chance. To our knowledge, this is the first study that has demonstrated pigeons are able to learn and retain multiple three-item lists. In addition, subjects’ performance on the derived-maintained probe trials suggests that they acquire knowledge of each list item’s ordinal position when learning multiple lists.


Ordinal knowledge Associative chain List learning 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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