Pigeons (Columba livia) Learn a Four-Item List by Trial and Error

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The aim of the current study was to assess whether pigeons could acquire a four-item list by trial and error. Pigeons received either extensive list training prior to being tested on a novel four-item list (i.e., the full-training group) or very limited training (i.e., the limited-training group). Specifically, subjects in the full-training group were trained to acquire a large set of two-item lists by trial and error, then a large set of three-item lists, and finally a large set of four-item lists. In addition, within each set, the number of training phases was gradually reduced. In contrast, the limited-training group were trained on a single four-item list prior to testing. Only one of the eight subjects (12.5%) in the limited-training group learned the novel four-item list. In contrast, all five subjects (100%) in the full-training group learned the novel four-item list. We suggest that the difference between groups reflects the fact that subjects in the full-training group acquired a learning set over the course of their extensive training. The current study is the first to demonstrate pigeons can learn a four-item list without phased training.

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