Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 321–341 | Cite as

Learning of an oddity rule by pigeons in a four-choice touch-screen procedure

  • Ulrike Aust
  • Michael M. Steurer
Original Paper


Six pigeons were trained to peck at a target (odd stimulus) that was presented on a touch-screen together with three identical distractors (non-odd stimuli). The target could be either a square or a circle that was either blue or green, and the distractors in each trial were always of the opposite form and color to the target. Thus, the birds could solve the task by attending to color, form, or both. Transfer tests showed that performance was not disrupted by novel forms, stimulus sizes, distractor numbers, and display configurations, but broke down with novel stimulus types (textured stimuli, clip art images, and photographs). Transfer to novel colors was, for the most part, restricted to trials in which only one component—target or distractors, but not both—had a novel color. This suggested that the pigeons used a couple of if–then rules rather than an oddity concept to solve the task, and that color differences between target and distractors were the only cue upon which responding was based. A control experiment with the order of color and form tests being reversed excluded the possibility of the prevalence of color being an artifact of task order and reinforcement contingencies.


Oddity concept If–then rules Color Form Pigeons 



The research was supported by the Austrian Science Foundation through Grant P2024 to Ulrike Aust and Grant P1957 to Ludwig Huber. Thanks are due to Gesche Fitch, Tanja Kleinhappel, and Claudia Stephan for help with laboratory and pigeon maintenance and to Wolfgang Berger for technical support.

Supplementary material

10071_2012_574_MOESM1_ESM.jpg (13.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (JPEG 13.4 mb)
10071_2012_574_MOESM2_ESM.jpg (19.3 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (JPEG 19.2 mb)
10071_2012_574_MOESM3_ESM.jpg (3.6 mb)
Supplementary material 3 (JPEG 3.64 mb)
10071_2012_574_MOESM4_ESM.jpg (2.7 mb)
Supplementary material 4 (JPEG 2.72 mb)
10071_2012_574_MOESM5_ESM.pdf (74 kb)
Supplementary material 5 (PDF 75 kb)
10071_2012_574_MOESM6_ESM.pdf (121 kb)
Supplementary material 6 (PDF 121 kb)
10071_2012_574_MOESM7_ESM.pdf (104 kb)
Supplementary material 7 (PDF 105 kb)


  1. Aust U, Huber L (2001) The role of item-and category-specific information in the discrimination of people versus nonpeople images by pigeons. Anim Learn Behav 29:107–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aust U, Huber L (2002) Target-defining features in a “people-present/people-absent” discrimination task by pigeons. Anim Learn Behav 30:165–176PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aust U, Huber L (2006) Does the use of natural stimuli facilitate amodal completion in pigeons? Perception 35:333–349PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aust U, Huber L (2010) The role of skin-related information in pigeons’ categorization and recognition of humans in pictures. Vis Res 50:1941–1948PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aust U, Range F, Steurer M, Huber L (2008) Inferential reasoning by exclusion in pigeons, dogs, and humans. Anim Cogn 11:587–597PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bailey AM, Thomas RK (1998) An investigation of oddity concept learning by rats. Psychol Rec 48:333–344Google Scholar
  7. Bailey AM, McDaniel WF, Thomas RK (2007) Approaches to the study of higher cognitive functions related to creativity in nonhuman animals. Methods 42:3–14PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blough P (2001) Cognitive strategies and foraging in pigeons. In: Cook RG (ed) Avian visual cognition.
  9. Carter DE, Eckerman DA (1975) Symbolic matching by rats: rate of learning complex discriminations predicted from simple discriminations. Science 187:662–664PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carter DE, Werner TJ (1978) Complex learning and information processing by pigeons: a critical analysis. J Exp Anal Behav 29:565–601PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cumming WW, Berryman R (1961) Some data on matching behavior in the pigeon. J Exp Anal Behav 4:281–284PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. D’Amato MR, Salmon DP, Colombo M (1985) Extents and limits of the matching concept in monkeys (Cebus apella). J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 11:35–51PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Delius JD (1994) Comparative cognition of identity. In: Bertelson P, Eelen P, d’Ydewalle G (eds) International perspectives on psychological science: vol 1. Leading themes. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, pp 25–40Google Scholar
  14. Emmerton J, Renner JC (2009) Local rather than global processing of visual arrays in numerosity discrimination by pigeons (Columba livia). Anim Cogn 12:511–526PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Emmerton J, Lohmann A, Niemann J (1997) Pigeons’ serial ordering of numerosity with visual arrays. Anim Learn Behav 25(2):234–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Farthing GW, Opuda MJ (1974) Transfer of matching-to-sample in pigeons. J Exp Anal Behav 21:199–213PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fisher RA (1954) Statistical methods for research workers, 12th edn. Oliver & Boyd, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  18. Forwood SE, Bartko SJ (2007) Rats spontaneously discriminate purely visual, two-dimensional stimuli in tests of recognition memory and perceptual oddity. Behav Neurosci 121(5):1032–1042PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Herrnstein RJ (1990) Levels of stimulus control: a functional approach. Cognition 37:133–166PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hille P, Dehnhardt G, Mauck B (2006) An analysis of visual oddity concept learning in a California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). Learn Behav 34(2):144–153PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Huber L, Troje NF, Loidolt M, Aust U, Grass D (2000) Natural categorization through multiple feature learning in pigeons. Q J Exp Psychol 53B:343–357Google Scholar
  22. Huber L, Apfalter W, Steurer M, Prossinger H (2005) A new learning paradigm elicits fast visual discrimination in pigeons. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 31(2):237–246PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnson DF, Cumming WW (1968) Some determiners of attention. J Exp Anal Behav 11:157–166PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Katz JS, Bodily KD, Wright AA (2008) Learning strategies in matching to sample: if-then and configural learning by pigeons. Behav Process 77:223–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Khallad Y (2004) Conceptualization in the pigeon: what do we know? Int J Psychol 39:73–94PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kirsch JA, Kabanova A, Güntürkün O (2008) Grouping of artificial objects in pigeons: an inquiry into the cognitive architecture of an avian mind. Brain Res Bull 75:485–490PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lea SEG (1984) In what sense do pigeons learn concepts? In: Roitblat HL, Bever TG, Terrace HS (eds) Animal cognition. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, pp 263–276Google Scholar
  28. Lea SEG, Huckstep R (2012) The single-mindedness of the pigeon: attention to single dimensions in multidimensional stimuli. Unpublished data presented at the 19th annual international conference on comparative cognition, March 7–March 10, 2012, Melbourne, FloridaGoogle Scholar
  29. Leith CR, Maki WS (1975) Attention shifts during matching-to-sample performance in pigeons. Anim Learn Behav 3(2):85–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Loidolt M, Aust U, Meran I, Huber L (2003) Pigeons use item-specific and category-level information in the identification and categorization of human face stimuli. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 29:261–276PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lombardi CM (2008) Matching and oddity relational learning by pigeons (Columba livia): transfer from color to shape. Anim Cogn 11:67–74PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lombardi CM, Fachinelli CC, Delius JD (1984) Oddity of visual patterns conceptualized by pigeons. Anim Learn Behav 12(1):2–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Olthof A, Roberts WA (2000) Summation of symbols by pigeons (Columba livia): the importance of number and mass of reward items. J Comp Psychol 114:158–166PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pearce JM (2008) Animal learning and cognition. Psychology Press, East Sussex, BN3 2FAGoogle Scholar
  35. Pearce JM, George DN (2003) Visual search asymmetry in pigeons. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 29(2):118–129PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pisacreta R (1996) Transfer of oddity-from-compound samples in the pigeon: some assembly required. Behav Process 37:103–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Premack D (1978) On the abstractness of human concepts: why it would be difficult to talk to a pigeon. In: Hulse SH, Fowler H, Honig WK (eds) Cognitive processes in animal behavior. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, pp 423–453Google Scholar
  38. Reynolds GS (1961) Attention in the pigeon. J Exp Anal Behav 4:203–208PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Roitberg E, Franz H (2004) Oddity learning by African dwarf goats (Capra hircus). Anim Cogn 7:61–67PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1995) Biometry: the principles and practice of statistics in biological research, 3rd edn. Freeman, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  41. Steurer MM, Aust U, Huber L (2012) The Vienna comparative cognition technology (VCCT): an innovative operant conditioning system for various species and experimental procedures. Beh Res Meth. Available online 22 March 2012; doi: 10.3758/s13428-012-0198-9
  42. Stobbe N, Westphal-Fitch G, Aust U, Fitch WT (2012) Visual artificial grammar learning: comparative research on humans, kea (Nestor notabilis) and pigeons (Columba livia). Phil Trans R Soc B 367:1995–2006PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Strength V, Zentall TR (1991) Matching and oddity learning in pigeons: effects of penalty time for incorrect responding. Anim Learn Behav 19(1):49–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sutton JE, Roberts WA (2001) Attentional processes in compound stimulus processing by pigeons. In: Cook RG (ed) Avian visual cognition.
  45. Thomas RK (1980) Evolution of intelligence: an approach to its assessment. Brain Behav Evol 17:454–472PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Thomas RK (1996) Investigating cognitive abilities in animals: unrealized potential. Cogn Brain Res 3:157–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Thomas RK, Crosby TN (1997) Absolute versus relative class conceptual behavior in squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus). Animal Learn Behav 5:265–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Thomas RK, Frost LM (1983) Oddity and dimension-abstracted oddity (DAO) in squirrel monkeys. Am J Psychol 96:51–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Thomas RK, Noble LM (1988) Visual and olfactory oddity learning in rats: what evidence is necessary to show conceptual behavior. Anim Learn Behav 16:157–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Troje NF, Huber L, Loidolt M, Aust U, Fieder M (1999) Categorical learning in pigeons: the role of texture and shape in complex static stimuli. Vis Res 39:353–366PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wilkie DM, Masson MF (1976) Attention in the pigeon: a reevaluation. J Exp Anal Behav 26:207–212PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wilkinson A, Specht HL, Huber L (2010) Pigeons can discriminate group mates from strangers using the concept of familiarity. Anim Behav 80:109–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wills AJ, Lea SEG, Leaver LA, Osthaus B, Ryan CME, Suret MB, Bryant CML, Chapman SJA, Millar L (2009) A comparative analysis of the categorization of multidimensional stimuli: I. Unidimensional classification does not necessarily imply analytic processing; evidence from pigeons (Columba livia), squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), and humans (Homo sapiens). J Comp Psychol 123(4):391–405PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wilson B, Mackintosh NJ, Boakes RA (1985a) Matching and oddity learning in the pigeon: transfer effects and the absence of relational learning. Q J Exp Psychol 37B:295–311Google Scholar
  55. Wilson B, Mackintosh NJ, Boakes RA (1985b) Transfer of relational rules in matching and oddity learning by pigeons and corvids. Q J Exp Psychol 37B:313–332Google Scholar
  56. Wright AA, Delius JD (1994) Scratch and match: pigeons learn matching and oddity with gravel stimuli. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 20(1):108–112PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wright AA, Delius JD (2005) Learning processes in matching and oddity: the oddity preference effect and sample reinforcement. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 31(4):425–432PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Xia L, Emmerton J, Siemann M, Delius JD (2001) Pigeons (Columba livia) learn to link numerosities with symbols. J Comp Psychol 115(1):83–91PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Yamazaki Y, Aust U, Huber L, Hausmann M, Güntürkün O (2007) Lateralized cognition: asymmetrical and complementary strategies of pigeons during discrimination of the “human concept”. Cognition 104:315–344. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2006.07.004 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Zayan R, Vauclair J (1998) Categories as paradigms for comparative cognition. Behav Process 42:87–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Zentall TR, Hogan DE (1974) Abstract concept learning in the pigeon. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 36:201–216Google Scholar
  62. Zentall TR, Hogan DE (1975) Concept learning in the pigeon: transfer to new matching and nonmatching stimuli. Am J Psychol 88:233–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Zentall TR, Hogan DE (1976) Pigeons can learn identity or difference, or both. Science 191:408–409PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Zentall TR, Hogan DE (1978) Same/different concept learning in the pigeon: the effect of negative instances and prior adaptation to transfer stimuli. J Exp Anal Behav 30:177–186PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Zentall TR, Hogan DE, Holder J (1974) Comparison of two oddity tasks with pigeons. Learn Mot 5:106–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Zentall TR, Hogan DE, Edwards CA (1980) Oddity learning in the pigeon as a function of the number of incorrect alternatives. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 6(3):278–299PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Zentall TR, Edwards CA, Moore BS (1981) Identity: the basis for both matching and oddity learning in pigeons. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 7(1):70–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Zentall TR, Galizio M, Critchfield TS (2002) Categorization, concept learning, and behavior analysis: an introduction. J Exp Anal Behav 78:237–248PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Zentall TR, Wasserman EA, Lazareva OF, Thompson RKR, Rattermann MJ (2008) Concept learning in animals. Comp Cogn Behav Rev 3:13–45Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cognitive BiologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Aerosol Physics and Environmental Physics, Faculty of PhysicsUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations