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Reorientation in diamond-shaped environments: encoding of features and angles in enclosures versus arrays by adult humans and pigeons (Columbia livia)


Although geometric reorientation has been extensively studied in numerous species, most research has been conducted in enclosed environments and has focused on use of the geometric property of relative wall length. The current studies investigated how angular information is used by adult humans and pigeons to orient and find a goal in enclosures or arrays that did not provide relative wall length information. In enclosed conditions, the angles formed a diamond shape connected by walls, whereas in array conditions, free-standing angles defined the diamond shape. Adult humans and pigeons were trained to locate two geometrically equivalent corners, either the 60° or 120° angles. Blue feature panels were located in the goal corners so that participants could use either the features or the local angular information to orient. Subsequent tests in manipulated environments isolated the individual cues from training or placed them in conflict with one another. In both enclosed and array environments, humans and pigeons were able to orient when either the angles or the features from training were removed. On conflict tests, female, but not male, adult humans weighted features more heavily than angular geometry. For pigeons, angles were weighted more heavily than features for birds that were trained to go to acute corners, but no difference in weighting was seen for birds trained to go to obtuse corners. These conflict test results were not affected by environment type. A subsequent test with pigeons ruled out an interpretation based on exclusive use of a principal axis rather than angle. Overall, the results indicate that, for both adult humans and pigeons, angular amplitude is a salient orientation cue in both enclosures and arrays of free-standing angles.

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The authors would like to thank Nicole Savignac, May So, Pauline Kwong, and Keith Baldoz for assistance with data collection and scoring. We also thank Isaac Lank for assistance with constructing the apparatus and Taylor Murphy for help with programming. This study was funded by individual Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery grants awarded to MLS and WM. Animal research was conducted in accordance with Canadian Council on Animal Care guidelines and with approval from the University of Alberta Animal Welfare Policy Committee. Human research was conducted in accordance to the University of Alberta research ethics for human experiments.

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Correspondence to Danielle M. Lubyk.

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Lubyk, D.M., Spetch, M.L., Zhou, R. et al. Reorientation in diamond-shaped environments: encoding of features and angles in enclosures versus arrays by adult humans and pigeons (Columbia livia). Anim Cogn 16, 565–581 (2013).

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  • Geometry
  • Angles
  • Features
  • Reorientation
  • Enclosed environment
  • Array