Chapter

Are birds metacognitive?

Kazuo Fujita, Noriyuki Nakamura, Sumie Iwasaki and Sota Watanabe

in Foundations of Metacognition

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199646739
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745867 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199646739.003.0004
Are birds metacognitive?

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Avians have been shown to be highly cognitive. This chapter asks whether they are also metacognitive in two separate experimental situations. In Study 1, recognition of confidence of their immediate decision in perceptual tasks was tested. Pigeons and bantams performed a visual search to peck at a target colour among distracters. Completing the search led them to a choice between a ‘risk’ icon and a ‘safe’ icon. The ‘risk’ icon always rewarded the bird’s correct search responses by food but punished incorrect responses by a timeout. The ‘safe’ icon rewarded the response at a lower frequency irrespective of their responses. The birds chose the ‘safe’ icon more frequently after an incorrect search than after a correct search. This differential use of icons generalized to the same tasks with new stimuli in most birds, and in one pigeon to a novel line-length discrimination task. In Study 2, it was asked whether pigeons would seek a hint when they were unsure of what to do next. They performed a list learning task, in which they had to peck at three icons in an arbitrary sequence. When novel icons appeared, the birds had to find out a correct sequence by trial and error. However, on half of the trials, there was an additional ‘hint’ icon, and pecking at it marked the next icon in the sequence. Some of the birds used this ‘hint’ icon more frequently upon starting to learn novel lists and less frequently later. These results suggest that some birds could be metacognitive in some situations, although other non-metacognitive accounts were also considered.

Keywords: metacognition; avians; pigeons; bantams; visual search; discrimination; confidence judgments; hint seeking

Chapter.  5934 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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