Not bird-brained: Chickens use prior experience to solve novel timing problems

Lisa Wiles, Sarah Cowie, Lewis Bizo

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Despite differences between bird and human brain anatomy, birds have recently demonstrated capacities thought to be uniquely human, including planning and problem-solving. Many avian demonstrations of ‘complex’ behaviors rely on species-specific behavior (e.g., caching, tool use), or use birds who have evolved largely in similarly undomesticated circumstances (e.g., pigeons). In the present experiment, we asked how a species domesticated thousands of years ago, chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus), used past experience to navigate novel problems in the double-bisection task. The double-bisection task which has been used extensively with pigeons, allowing a comparison of signatures of chicken and pigeon performance on the same task. Our findings revealed chickens, like pigeons, show flexible learning that is sensitive to the broader context in which events occur. Further, as with pigeons, our chickens’ patterns of performance could be divided into two distinct categories which may reflect differences in the specific behaviors in which organisms engage during a timing task. Our findings demonstrate remarkable similarity in how chickens and pigeons use past experience to navigate novel problems. Further, these findings add to a growing body of knowledge suggesting the simplest forms of learning common across species–operant and respondent conditioning–are more flexible than is typically assumed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0282667
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


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