Prof John Pierce [sp?] of Cardiff Univ in Wales examines the mind of the humble pigeon. The pigeon learns that pecking at pictures of trees brings food, while pecking at other pictures does not. . . . [leafy broadleaf trees, food; car w/ trees in background, no food; trees with purple flowers carpeting ground in foreeground, food; birdís eye view of train platform with red train pulling out and people lining tracks, no food] The pigeon† learns the 30 pictures of trees that mean food. Now the critical part of the test: Prof Pierce gives the pigeon a new set of images. To recognize this picture that itís never seen before, the pigeon must have a concept of trees in its head. So do pigeons have concepts? So do pigeons have concepts? The answer is yes. The pigeon compares this picture [closeup of about 4 or 5 fern fronds] with its mental concept of a tree and correctly rejects the fern. To further test the pigeons understanding of concepts, scientists showed them pictures by Picasso and Monet. They quickly learned that only Picasso meant food. But could they form a concept of Picassoís painting style? The scientists presented the pigeons with pictures they hadnít seen before. They pecked at the new Picasso and rejected the Monet. Matisseís style is more like Picassoís than Monetís, so he got pecked. Art students often confuse Matisse and Picasso, too. It seems that pigeons do have concepts, and rather similar to our own. Could their minds really work like ours? To test that, Prof Pierce has given his pigeons and his students the same problems.
†††† [Prof P:] So what I want to do in todayís practical is to give you a feel for the sort of experiment Iíve been doing with my pigeons, and what I want you to do, in fact, is to solveóor try to solveósome of the problems that Iíve given my pigeons. [Laughter] What Iím going to do is Iím going to show you a set of patterns on these television screens. Some of the patterns will be followed by a tone, and some will be followed by nothing.
†††† [Narrator:] The test is to predict which pattern is followed by a tone and which is not. Join the pigeons and the students and try and work it out for yourself. . . . How did you do compared with the students and the pigeons? The pigeon may know a Picasso from a Monet, but it canít solve this test. It pecks hopefully at all the patterns [drawn green bars, as in a bar graph--some pairs same height, others unequal], not realizing the answer is simple: equal to.
†††† Now try to predict the answers in this next experiment. [Red bars, three each time, but stuck together, w/ no space between, on a white background] If youíre struggling, youíre not alone.
†††† [Prof Pierce:] How many of you think youíve got the solution to the problem? Oh, dear, thatís not many. Do some of you think you might [ital] have got it? No. OK. Well, I donít want to put any pressure on you, but by this stage, my pigeons are normally doing quite well.
†††† [Narrator:] And the answer? Small area of color, tone. Large area, no tone. The pigeons find this test easy. They quickly discern the visual distinction between large and small areas. We, however, search for meaningófor relationshipsóso we fail to see the simple solution. The pigeons canít grasp the concepts of equal to or greater than. This is the realm of abstract thought, and it may be beyond the pigeon mind.