Multiple Feature Use in Pigeons’ Category Discrimination: The Influence of Stimulus Set Structure and the Salience of Stimulus Differences

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Two experiments investigated what makes it more likely that pigeons’ behavior will come under the control of multiple relevant visual stimulus dimensions. Experiment 1 investigated the effect of stimulus set structure, using a conditional discrimination between circles that differed in both hue and diameter. Two training conditions differed in whether hue and diameter were correlated in the same way within positive and negative stimulus sets as between sets. Transfer tests showed that all pigeons came under the control of both dimensions, regardless of stimulus set structure. Experiment 2 investigated the effect of the relative salience of the stimulus differences on three visual dimensions. Pigeons learned a multiple simultaneous discrimination between circular patches of sinusoidal gratings that differed in hue, orientation, and spatial frequency. In initial training, each stimulus only included one positive or negative feature, and the stimulus differences on the three dimensions were adjusted so that the rates of learning about the three dimensions were kept approximately equal. Transfer tests showed that all three dimensions acquired control over behavior, with no single dimension dominating consistently across pigeons. Subsequently the pigeons were trained in a polymorphous category discrimination using all three dimensions, and the level of control by the three dimensions tended to become more equal as polymorphous training continued. We conclude that the salience of the stimulus differences on different dimensions is an important factor in whether pigeons will come under the control of multiple dimensions of visual stimuli.

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