In their research on the discrimination capabilities of pigeons, Watanabe, Sakamoto, and Wakita presented eight untrained pigeons with various pictures or videos of paintings that had two distinct styles: impressionist or cubist. Based on previous research that showed discrimination between types of music heard by pigeons, Watanabe and colleagues aimed to decipher if pigeons could also visually discriminate between the works of Monet and Picasso. Pigeons were trained to peck a key light without any presentation of a stimulus, before being divided into two groups: Monet S+ and Picasso S+. Pigeons belonging to the Monet S+ group were reinforced with hemp seeds upon correct key pecking when presented with Monet paintings. Similarly, pigeons responding to the Picasso S+ group received reinforcement for correct responses to Picasso paintings. To move onto the testing phase, pigeons were required to correctly discriminate at a 90% ratio. For the four test conditions, Watanabe and colleagues tested for discrimination between different characteristics of paintings, such as color, contour sharpness, orientation (reversed or upside-down) and generalization to similar types of artwork. Whereas pigeons had been trained with full color photographs/videos, test one presented paintings that contained only one color.
Likewise, stimuli used in training contained distinct lines and contours, but for test two, these lines were ill-defined and the paintings were blurred. In test three, some paintings presented were either in reverse or upside-down compared to original stimuli. In test 4, birds were shown stimuli consisting of novel paintings from various impressionists/cubist artists, along with original paintings used in discriminative training. In a second experiment, Wantanabe and colleagues used similar training and testing procedures with two pigeons to determine if the subjects could discriminate between pseudoconcept groups of paintings that contained both Monet and Picasso paintings. With S+ being paintings from both artists, testing phases one, two and three were again conducted. Both pigeons were able to successfully discriminate during training at the level required to move onto the testing phase.
Although discrimination responses of some pigeons were affected by changes to stimuli in tests one and two for both experiments, there was no significant evidence that a specific characteristic was used for discrimination. In experiment one, a decrease in responses to the Monet S+ group in test 3 demonstrates that a contortion of real objects seen in impressionist art may hinder discrimination, as opposed to the abstract artwork that is seen in works by Picasso. Furthermore, the Picasso S+ group in test 3 did not see a decline in responses during experiment one. However in the second experiment, one pigeon showed a decline in responding while the other pigeon did not. In test four, birds in the Monet S+ group responded to novel Monet paintings and works from other Impressionists, just as birds in the Picasso S+ group responded to novel Picasso paintings and other cubism works. Furthermore, pigeons in Picasso S+ not only discriminated between cubism and impressionism paintings, but also between the individual paintings themselves.
Through these experiments, Wantanabe and colleagues were able to demonstrate how pigeons could discriminate between different categories of paintings, as well as pseudo categories. Pigeons were able to distinguish between Monet, Picasso, and works from impressionist or cubist artists by creating categories based on different characteristics of these stimuli. In summation, results from these experiments indicate that pigeon’s possess the ability to create groups with generalized stimuli, as well as discriminate between individual stimuli.
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