Avian Visual Cognition

Landmark-Based Spatial Memory in Pigeons

Ken ChengMarcia Spetch
Departments of Psychology,  MacQuarie University & University of Alberta

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  The Transformational Approach






This cyber chapter reviews research in our labs on how the pigeon uses landmarks to pinpoint a location. Much of the research relies on the transformational approach. In this approach, the bird is trained to find a place defined by a landmark array. After learning the task, the array may be transformed in various ways on crucial tests. The pigeon, like the rat, relies in part on a representation of the broad shape of the environment to tell which direction is which. This shape record is called the geometric module. When cues from various landmarks are available, the pigeon typically averages the dictates of different cues. We can see this when the cues conflict in their dictates. On the other hand, they often do not use all the available cues, but rely selectively on a subset, a phenomenon known as selective stimulus control. Pigeons encode and calculate the metric properties of distance and direction to landmarks. Distances and directions are computed independently. Pigeons use the configurations of landmarks to identify which landmark is which. For example, a landmark might be encoded as the top left one of an array. Landmark-based search follows a number of general laws of learning, including overshadowing, spatial peak shift, and spatial generalization. We suggest that other general laws of learning may be examined in the spatial domain. Other future research topics include how the bird uses vectors to travel a path, and how it measures distance traveled.

This cyber chapter is organized into modules that are to a good extent independent of one another. We have ordered them in what we think is the most logical order. Each module consists of a largely pictorial presentation, with additional details and comments as needed. 

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Next Section: The Transformational approach