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An attempt to confirm magnetic sensitivity in the pigeon,Columba livia

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Summary

An attempt was made to test the sensitivity of homing pigeons to weak magnetic variations of the order of the ones naturally occuring on earth. Pigeons were first subjected to a cardiac orienting reflex test to 50 magnetic stimuli and to 50 control stimuli presented alone and randomly interdigitated. They were then subjected to a differential nociceptive conditioning procedure using the same magnetic and control stimuli for 100 trials under each stimulus condition. Cardiac activity was used as an index of reactivity throughout the study. The tests were performed in uniform magnetic fields using 1 m diameter Helmholtz coils. Results indicate that the magnetic stimuli presentations did not evoke a cardiac orienting reflex when compared to the cardiac orienting response of control pigeons to a neutral luminous stimulus. Moreover, results from the conditioning tests indicate that the magnetic stimuli were not used by the pigeons as a cue presaging the forthcoming shock. It is concluded that, in the present experimental situation, homing pigeons did not respond to small changes in the ambiant magnetic field with changes in autonomic functioning. Results are discussed in the context of the inappropriateness of the stimuli and tests used to show magnetic sensitivity in birds.

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This research was carried out as part of a doctoral dissertation in the Département de Psychologie at the Université de Louvain (Belgique). The author is indebted to Professor G. Thinès, Director of the Centre de Psychologie Expérimentale et Comparée of the Université de Louvain for his guidance and encouragement as dissertation adviser. We would also like to express our appreciation to Dr. A. Vandenplass, director of the Institut Royal Metéorologique de Belgique and the Fédération Royale Colombophile de Belgique and to Professor J.L. Koenigsfeld from the University of Liège for their interest and cooperation in this research. Dr. Marco Citta and Louis Laurencelle gave computer assistance and Francois Labelle made the technical drawings. This research was supported by the Centre de Psychologie Expérimentale et Comparée and the Fédération Royale Colombophile de Belgique and made possible by a special leave of absence granted to the author by the Université du Québec à Montréal.

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Beaugrand, J.P. An attempt to confirm magnetic sensitivity in the pigeon,Columba livia . J. Comp. Physiol. 110, 343–355 (1976). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00659150

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