Animal Cognition

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 855–859 | Cite as

Pigeons perform poorly on a midsession reversal task without rigid temporal regularity

  • Neil McMillan
  • Christopher B. Sturdy
  • Jeffrey M. Pisklak
  • Marcia L. Spetch
Short Communication


Animals make surprising anticipatory and perseverative errors when faced with a midsession reversal of reinforcer contingencies on a choice task with highly predictable stimulus–time relationships. In the current study, we asked whether pigeons would anticipate changes in reinforcement when the reinforcer contingencies for each stimulus were not fixed in time. We compared the responses of pigeons on a simultaneous choice task when the initially correct stimulus was randomized or alternated across sessions. Pigeons showed more errors overall compared with the typical results of a standard midsession reversal procedure, and they did not show the typical anticipatory errors prior to the contingency reversal. Probe tests that manipulated the spacing between trials also suggested that timing of the session exerted little control of pigeons’ behavior. The temporal structure of the experimental session thus appears to be an important determinant for animals’ use of time in midsession reversal procedures.


Reversal learning Interval timing Choice Pigeons 



This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant and Discovery Accelerator Supplement to CB Sturdy and an NSERC Discovery Grant to ML Spetch. We thank Nuha Madi, Pauline Kwong, Joshua Yong, and Jason Long for assistance in running subjects and Tad Plesowicz for animal care.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standard

This research was conducted with the approval of the University of Alberta Research Ethics Office, meeting the standards of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Neuroscience and Mental Health InstituteUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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