Cognitive Flexibility and Dual Processing in Pigeons: Temporal and Contextual Control of Midsession Reversal

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Evidence is reported showing that pigeons flexibly use temporal and contextual cues to maximize reward obtained in a midsession reversal task. Pigeons were trained to choose between red and green sidekeys for 60 trials in a session, with choice of one color correct on Trials 1–30 and choice of the other color correct on Trials 31–60 (midsession reversal). Pigeons showed anticipatory errors before reversal and perseverative errors after reversal, and manipulations of the length of the intertrial interval and the point of reversal suggested that pigeons used an internal timer to track the point of reversal. When houselight context cues that signaled the correct choice were presented throughout trials in Experiment 1, choice behavior rapidly came under context control, leading pigeons to rarely make errors and to show no effect of intertrial interval or point of reversal. In Experiments 2 and 3, switches between context and no-context cues occurred among trials. These manipulations revealed that pigeons can readily switch between context control and temporal control of behavior. The internal timer continued to run throughout context trials and could readily be accessed to control choice behavior when a context cue was removed.

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