Light experience and the development of behavioural lateralization in chicks III. Learning to distinguish pebbles from grains

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Abstract

Chicks searching for food grains against a background of unfamiliar pebbles usually peck pebbles less when using the right eye (RE), or both eyes, than when using the left eye (LE), provided that the embryo's RE has been exposed to light (Li), as is normal. When pecking is fast this right/left difference is mainly due to a heightened ability of RE chicks to inhibit premature pecks (and inappropriate responses in general). Dark incubation (Da) abolishes this ability in RE chicks, and RE and LE chicks show similar frequent pebble pecks. We show now that, under conditions that cause cautious pecking, both Li and Da chicks show a new effect: in both cases LE chicks peck pebbles more than RE chicks, probably because of the novelty of pebbles. Interest in novelty in LE chicks is known to be unaffected by light in incubation. Age-dependent effects are also important. RE and LE chicks, which had either the LE or RE exposed to light before hatching, were tested on days 3, 5, 8 or 12 post-hatching, under conditions giving normal fast pecking. Artificial exposure of the embryo's LE to light reversed the lateralization: in general, chicks using the light-exposed eye performed well at all ages. Irrespective of which eye system had heightened ability to inhibit pebble pecks, RE performance differed from usual on 2 days, whereas LE chicks showed no age-dependent changes. Changes confined to the RE system, therefore, affect behaviour independently of lateralization of the ability to inhibit inappropriate response.

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