Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 241–254 | Cite as

Information-seeking behavior: exploring metacognitive control in pigeons

  • Leyre Castro
  • Edward A. Wasserman
Original Paper


Metacognitive control may occur if an organism seeks additional information when the available information for solving a problem is inadequate. Such information-seeking behavior has been documented in primates, but evidence of analogous behavior is less convincing in non-primates. In our study, we adopted a novel methodological approach. We presented pigeons with visual discriminations of varying levels of difficulty, and on special testing trials, we gave the birds the opportunity of making the discrimination easier. We initially trained pigeons on a discrimination between same and different visual arrays, each containing 12 items (low difficulty), 4 items (intermediate difficulty), or 2 items (high difficulty). We later provided an “Information” button that the pigeons could peck to increase the number of items in the arrays, thereby making the discrimination easier, plus a “Go” button which, when pecked, simply allowed the pigeons to proceed to their final discriminative response. Critically, our pigeons’ choice of the “Information” button increased as the difficulty of the task increased. As well, some of our pigeons showed evidence of prompt and appropriate transfer of using the “Information” button to help them perform brand-new brightness and size discrimination tasks. Speculation as to the contents of pigeons’ private mental states may be unwarranted, but our pigeons did objectively exhibit the kind of complex, flexible, and adaptive information-seeking behavior that is deemed to be involved in metacognitive control.


Metacognition Metacognitive control Information-seeking behavior Pigeons 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of IowaIowa CityUSA

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