Advertisement

The ALDB box: Automatic testing of cognitive performance in groups of aviary-housed pigeons

Abstract

The combination of highly controlled experimental testing and the voluntary participation of unrestrained animals has many advantages over traditional, laboratory-based learning environments in terms of animal welfare, learning speed, and resource economy. Such automatic learning environments have recently been developed for primates (Fagot & Bonté, 2010; Fagot & Paleressompoulle, 2009;) but, so far, has not been achieved with highly mobile creatures such as birds. Here, we present a novel testing environment for pigeons. Living together in small groups in outside aviaries, they can freely choose to participate in learning experiments by entering and leaving the automatic learning box at any time. At the single-access entry, they are individualized using radio frequency identification technology and then trained or tested in a stress-free and self-terminating manner. The voluntary nature of their participation according to their individual biorhythm guarantees high motivation levels and good learning and test performance. Around-the-clock access allows for massed-trials training, which in baboons has been proven to have facilitative effects on discrimination learning. The performance of 2 pigeons confirmed the advantages of the automatic learning device for birds box. The latter is the result of a development process of several years that required us to deal with and overcome a number of technical challenges: (1) mechanically controlled access to the box, (2) identification of the birds, (3) the release of a bird and, at the same time, prevention of others from entering the box, and (4) reliable functioning of the device despite long operation times and exposure to high dust loads and low temperatures.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9

References

  1. Aust, U., Range, F., Steurer, M., & Huber, L. (2008). Inferential reasoning by exclusion in pigeons, dogs, and humans. Animal Cognition, 11, 587–597.

  2. Brown, P. L., & Jenkins, H. M. (1968). Auto-shaping of the pigeon’s keypeck. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 11, 1–8.

  3. Cook, R. G. (1992). Acquisition and transfer of visual texture discriminations by pigeons. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 18, 341–353. doi:10.1037/0097-7403.18. 4.341

  4. Cook, R. G., Geller, A. I., Zhang, G., & Gowda, R. (2004). Touchscreen-enhanced visual learning in rats. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36(1), 101–106.

  5. Fagot, J., & Bonté, E. (2010). Automated testing of cognitive performance in monkeys: Use of a battery of computerized test systems by a troop of semi-free-ranging baboons (Papio papio). Behavior Research Methods, 42(2), 507–516. doi:10.3758/BRM.42.2.507

  6. Fagot, J., Gullstrand, J., Kemp, C., Defilles, C., & Mekaouche, M. (2013). Effects of freely accessible computerized test systems on the spontaneous behaviors and stress level of Guinea baboons (Papio papio). American Journal of Primatology, in press, doi: 10.1002/ajp.22193

  7. Fagot, J., & Paleressompoulle, D. (2009). Automatic testing of cognitive performance in baboons maintained in social groups. Behavior Research Methods, 41(2), 396–404. doi:10.3758/BRM.41.2.396

  8. Foster, K. R., & Kokko, H. (2009). The evolution of superstitious and superstition-like behaviour. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1654), 31–37. doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.0981

  9. Gibson, B. M., Wasserman, E. A., Frei, L., & Miller, K. (2004). Recent advances in operant conditioning technology: A versatile and affordable computerized touchscreen system. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36(2), 355–362.

  10. Huber, L. (1994). Amelioration of laboratory conditions for pigeons. Animal Welfare, 3, 321–324.

  11. Huber, L., Apfalter, W., Steurer, M., & Prossinger, H. (2005). A new learning paradigm elicits fast visual discrimination in pigeons. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 31, 237–246.

  12. Morrison, S. K., & Brown, M. F. (1990). The touch screen system in the pigeon laboratory: An initial evaluation of its utility. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 22, 123–126.

  13. Palmers, C. (1998): Animal feeding apparatus; United States Patent 5758597; June 2, 1998.

  14. Peirce, J. W. (2007). PsychoPy - Psychophysics software in Python. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 162(1–2), 8–13. doi:10.1016/j.jneumeth.2006.11.017

  15. Peirce, J. W. (2008). Generating stimuli for neuroscience using PsychoPy. Frontiers in Neuroinformatics 2. doi: 10.3389/neuro.11.010.2008.

  16. Pisacreta, R., & Rilling, M. (1987). Infrared touch technology as a response detector in animal research. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 19, 389–396.

  17. Skinner, B. F. (1932). Drive and reflex strength: II. Journal of General Psychology, 6, 38–48.

  18. Skinner, B. F. (1938). Behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton Century Crofts.

  19. Skinner, B. F. (1948). Superstition in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 168–172. doi:10.1037/h0055873

  20. Skinner, B. F. (1984). A Matter of Consequences. Part Three of an Autobiography. New York: New York University Press.

  21. Staddon, J. E. R., & Simmelhag, V. L. (1971). The “Superstition” experiment: a reexamination of its implications for the principles of adaptive behavior. Psychological Reviews, 78, 3–43. doi:10.1037/h0030305

  22. Steurer, M. M., Aust, U., & Huber, L. (2012). The Vienna comparative cognition technology (VCCT): an innovative operant conditioning system for various species and experimental procedures. Behavior Research Methods, 44(4), 909–918. doi:10.3758/s13428-012-0198-9

  23. Straw, A. D. (2008). Vision egg: an open-source library for realtime visual stimulus generation. Frontiers in Neuroinformatics, 2, 4. doi:10.3389/neuro.11.004.2008

  24. van Rossum, G., & de Boer, J. (1991). Interactively testing remote servers using the Python programming language. CWI Quarterly, 4(4), 283–303.

  25. Xia, L., Delius, J. D., & Sieman, M. (1996). A multistimulus, portable, and programmable conditioning panel for pigeons. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 28(1), 49–54.

Download references

Author Note

This research was supported by grants from the LEAB grant of a local sponsor and the Austrian Science Foundation (P19574 to L. Huber). Thanks are dueWolfgang Berger, for constructing the ALDB box and all mechanical parts; Michael Steurer, Andras Peter, Peter Füreder, and Michael Pichler, for help with developing the hardware, software, and electronical parts; Ulrike Aust, for discussion and help with the manuscript; and Alexandra Christian, for help with animal care.

Ludwig Huber, Comparative Cognition, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, University of Vienna; Nils Heise and Christopher Zeman, Department of Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna; Christian Palmers, Adaptive Behavior Research, Vienna. Corresponding concerning this article should be addressed to Ludwig Huber, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine, A-1210 Vienna, Austria. E-mail: ludwig.huber@vetmeduni.ac.at.

Author information

Correspondence to Ludwig Huber.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

(AVI 9913 kb)

ESM 1

(AVI 9913 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Huber, L., Heise, N., Zeman, C. et al. The ALDB box: Automatic testing of cognitive performance in groups of aviary-housed pigeons. Behav Res 47, 162–171 (2015) doi:10.3758/s13428-014-0462-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Automation
  • Operant conditioning
  • Pigeon
  • Animal welfare