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The use of proportion by young domestic chicks (Gallus gallus)

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We investigated whether 4-day-old domestic chicks can discriminate proportions. Chicks were trained to respond, via food reinforcement, to one of the two stimuli, each characterized by different proportions of red and green areas (¼ vs. ¾). In Experiment 1, chicks approached the proportion associated with food, even if at test the spatial dispositions of the two areas were novel. In Experiment 2, chicks responded on the basis of proportion even when the testing stimuli were of enlarged dimensions, creating a conflict between the absolute positive area experienced during training and the relative proportion of the two areas. However, chicks could have responded on the basis of the overall colour (red or green) of the figures rather than proportion per se. To control for this objection, in Experiment 3, we used new pairs of testing stimuli, each depicting a different number of small squares on a white background (i.e. 1 green and 3 red vs. 3 green and 1 red or 5 green and 15 red vs. 5 red and 15 green). Chicks were again able to respond to the correct proportion, showing they discriminated on the basis of proportion of continuous quantities and not on the basis of the prevalent colour or on the absolute amount of it. Data indicate that chicks can track continuous quantities through various manipulations, suggesting that proportions are information that can be processed by very young animals.

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This study was supported by a research grant from University of Padova to R.R. (‘Progetto Giovani’, Bando 2010, Università degli Studi di Padova, prot.: GRIC101142). G.V. was funded by an ERC Advanced Grant (PREMESOR ERC-2011-ADG_20110406).

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The experiments complied with all applicable national and European laws concerning the use of animals in research and were approved by the Italian Ministry of Health (permit number: 5/2012 B emitted on 10 January 2012). All procedures employed in the experiments were examined and approved by the Ethical Committee of the University of Padua (Comitato Etico di Ateneo per la Sperimentazione Animale—C.E.A.S.A.) as well as by the Italian National Institute of Health (N.I.H).

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Correspondence to Rosa Rugani.

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Rugani, R., Vallortigara, G. & Regolin, L. The use of proportion by young domestic chicks (Gallus gallus). Anim Cogn 18, 605–616 (2015).

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