Animal Cognition

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 315–329 | Cite as

Adaptive learning and forgetting in an unconventional experimental routine

  • Daniel Bell-Garrison
  • Nathaniel C. Rice
  • Elizabeth G. E. KyonkaEmail author
Original Paper


Forgetting is often thought of as the inability to remember, but remembering and forgetting allow behavior to adapt to a changing environment in distinct and separable ways. Learning and forgetting were assessed concurrently in two pigeon experiments that involved the same unconventional routine where the schedule of reinforcement changed every session. Sessions were run back-to-back with a 23-h mid-session break such that in a single visit to the testing chamber, a pigeon completed the second half of one session and the first half of the next. The beginning of a new session was either signaled or unsignaled. Experiment 1 involved concurrent variable–interval variable–interval schedules with four possible reinforcer ratios. Response allocation was sensitive to the richer schedule and was retained through the mid-session break. Experiment 2 involved peak interval schedules of varying durations. Temporal discrimination was rapidly acquired before and after the mid-session break, but not retained. Signaling the session change decreased control by past contingencies in both experiments, demonstrating that learning and forgetting can be investigated separately. These results suggest that the temporal structure of training, such as multiple short daily sessions instead of one long session, can meaningfully impact measurement of animals’ capacity to forget and remember.


Adaptive forgetting Choice Key peck Pigeons Rapid acquisition Temporal learning 



We thank Matt Eckard, Shrinidhi Subramaniam and Alex Ward for helping collect data for this study. Thanks to Anthony McLean for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Portions of this research were completed as part of the first and second authors’ theses in psychology at West Virginia University and were supported by the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Psychology.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional animal care and use committee at West Virginia University, where the studies were conducted.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  2. 2.Psychology and Behavioural ScienceUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  3. 3.United States Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical DefenseGunpowderUSA

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