Pigeons acquire the 1-back task: Implications for implicit versus explicit learning?


In humans, a distinction can be made between implicit or procedural learning (involving stimulus-response associations) and explicit or declarative learning (involving verbalizable rules) that is relatively easy to make in verbal humans. According to several investigators, it is also possible to make such a distinction in nonverbal animals. One way is by training them on a conditional discrimination task (e.g., matching-to-sample) in which reinforcement for correct choice on the current trial is delayed until after a choice is made on the next trial – a method known as the 1-back procedure. According to Smith, Jackson, and Church ( Journal of Comparative Psychology, 134(4), 423–434, 2020), the delay between the sample-correct-comparison response on one trial and reinforcement obtained on the next trial is too long for implicit (associative) learning. Thus, according to this theory, learning must be explicit. In the present experiments we trained pigeons using the 1-back procedure. In Experiment 1, pigeons were trained on red/green 1-back matching using a non-correction procedure. Some of the pigeons showed significant learning. When a correction procedure was introduced, all the pigeons showed evidence of learning. In Experiment 2, new pigeons learned red/green 1-back matching with the correction procedure. In Experiment 3, new pigeons learned symbolic 1-back matching with yellow and blue conditional stimuli and red/green choice stimuli. Thus, pigeons can learn using 1-back reinforcement. Although it would appear that the pigeons acquired this task explicitly, we believe that this procedure does not adequately distinguish between implicit and explicit learning.

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Correspondence to Thomas R. Zentall.

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Nosarzewska, A., Peng, D.N. & Zentall, T.R. Pigeons acquire the 1-back task: Implications for implicit versus explicit learning?. Learn Behav (2021). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13420-021-00468-3

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  • Explicit learning
  • Implicit learning
  • 1-back procedure
  • Matching-to-sample