Labeling and family resemblance in the discrimination of polymorphous categories by pigeons
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Two experiments examined whether pigeons discriminate polymorphous categories on the basis of a single highly predictive feature or overall similarity. In the first experiment, pigeons were trained to discriminate between categories of photographs of complex real objects. Within these pictures, single features had been manipulated to produce a highly salient texture cue. Either the picture or the texture provided a reliable cue for discrimination during training, but in probe tests, the picture and texture cues were put into conflict. Some pigeons showed a significant tendency to discriminate on the basis of the picture cue (overall similarity or family resemblance), whereas others appeared to rely on the manipulated texture cue. The second experiment used artificial polymorphous categories in which one dimension of the stimulus provided a completely reliable cue to category membership, whereas three other dimensions provided cues that were individually unreliable but collectively provided a completely reliable basis for discrimination. Most pigeons came under the control of the reliable cue rather than the unreliable cues. A minority, however, came under the control of single dimensions from the unreliable set. We conclude that cue salience can be more important than cue reliability in determining what features will control behavior when multiple cues are available.
KeywordsPigeon Category discrimination Feature learning Family resemblance Labeling Salience
Experiment 1 was carried out by Beth Nicholls in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the M.Sc. degree in Animal Behaviour of the University of Exeter. The experimental work described here was supported by the New and Emerging Science and Technologies activity of the European Community Framework Programme 6, under grant no. 516542, “From Associations to Rules in the Development of Concepts” (FAR). We are grateful to Lisa Leaver, Louise Millar, Andy Wills and John Endler for discussion, and to Denis Mareschal and Caspar Addyman (Birkbeck, University of London) for supplying the photographs used as stimuli in Experiment 1. The experimental work was carried out within the terms of the United Kingdom Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (1986).
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