Dr. Ed Wasserman
Participation year
Project title

Auditory Categorization by Pigeons


Categorization is one of the ways that humans make sense of the world. Putting things into groups gives structure and a sense of predictability to our lives. Cognition in this form causes actions and interactions with certain objects, sounds, people, and places to become meaningful. Our question is: is this ability unique to humans? To answer this question, we studied categorization in pigeons, using highly controlled sounds and a four-key forced-choice discrimination procedure. In daily sessions, two pigeons had to classify each of 40 sounds into four basic-level categories (primate calls, birdsongs, horns, and bells) from two super ordinate categories (natural and artificial). So far, one pigeon has been in training for 10 days. The other pigeon is in the pre-training phase of the experiment; this involves pecking at the screen for food reward while being habituated to the sounds. We predict that, because this is an acoustic test for highly visual animals, the pigeons will be slow to learn the different sound categories. Nevertheless, we predict that the pigeons will eventually classify the stimuli into the correct basic-level categories. It is still too early to tell if pigeons can master this complex categorization task.

University of Texas at El Paso