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Pigeons have featured in numerous experiments in comparative psychology, including experiments concerned with animal cognition, and as a result we have considerable knowledge of pigeon intelligence.
Available data show, for example, that:
- Pigeons have the capacity to share attention between different dimensions of a stimulus, but (like humans and other animals) their performance with multiple dimensions is worse than with a single stimulus dimension
- Pigeons can be taught relatively complex actions and response sequences, and can learn to make responses in different sequences
- Pigeons readily learn to respond in the presence of one simple stimulus and withhold responding in the presence of a different stimulus, or to make different responses in the presence of different stimuli.
- Pigeons can discriminate between other individual pigeons, and can use the behaviour of another individual as a cue to tell them what response to make.
- Pigeons readily learn to make discriminative responses to different categories of stimuli, defined either by arbitrary rules (e.g. green triangles) or by human concepts (e.g. pictures of human beings).
- They do less well with categories defined by abstract logical relationships, e.g. "symmetrical" or "same", though some experimenters have successfully trained pigeons to discriminate such categories.
- Pigeons seem to require more information than humans for constructing a three-dimensional image from a plane representation.
- Pigeons seem to have difficulty in dealing with problems involving classes of classes. Thus they do not do very well with the isolation of a relationship among variables, as against a representation of a set of exemplars.
- Pigeons can remember large numbers of individual images for a long time, e.g. hundreds of images for periods of several years.
All these are capacities that are likely to be found in most mammal and bird species. In addition pigeons have unusual, perhaps unique, abilities to learn routes back to their home from long distances. This homing behaviour is different from that of birds that show migration, which usually occurs over a fixed route at fixed times of the year, whereas homing is more flexible; however similar mechanisms may be involved.
Additionally pigeons are one of six species to pass the mirror test — which tests whether an animal recognizes its reflection as an image of itself — along with humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. However, the tests which purported to show that pigeons could pass the mirror test have been criticized by many scientists.
- Avian Visual Cognition edited by Robert G. Cook - a cyber book containing much material about pigeons
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