Animal Cognition

, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 973–989 | Cite as

Perception of Ebbinghaus–Titchener stimuli in starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)

  • Muhammad A. J. QadriEmail author
  • Robert G. Cook
Original Paper


Whether animals experience visual illusions is a fertile area of study for examining the evolution and operation of visual cognition across different species. Here, five starlings were tested to examine whether they experienced the Ebbinghaus–Titchener illusion. Across two experiments using an absolute target circle size discrimination, the size, similarity, distance, and number of the surrounding flankers were manipulated. The results suggest that this passerine species exhibits behavior inconsistent with the perception of the illusion, neither in a human-like fashion nor, as suggested by the first experiment, a reversed illusion. Instead, the typical training used to investigate this illusion caused the starlings to learn to integrate the irrelevant flankers into their decision process in a manner that precludes the study of illusory perception. The resulting discriminative behavior might best be described using a template-matching account. While illusion perception by animals remains an important comparative question, it requires additional validation to confirm the exact mechanisms of any illusory reports.


Starling Visual illusions Comparative Psychophysics Size Perception 



Parts of this research were supported by the National Eye Institute grant #RO1EY022655 to RGC. The authors would like to thank Suzanne Gray and Angelle Antoun for discussion and editing of this manuscript, as well as two anonymous reviewers for their comments. The data for this manuscript is stored in a digital repository, accessible from


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA

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