Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


38th Annual Convention; Seattle, WA; 2012

Event Details

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Symposium #134
What Behaviorists Can Contribute to the Field of Comparative Cognition
Sunday, May 27, 2012
9:00 AM–10:20 AM
606 (Convention Center)
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Timothy D. Hackenberg (Reed College)
Abstract: Comparative cognition is a dynamic and rapidly growing field that exists at the intersection of experimental psychology, behavioral neuroscience, behavioral ecology, and other biologically oriented approaches to behavior. It is concerned broadly with how learning and evolution combine to produce complex behavior. Despite the obvious relevance of behavior analysis to an understanding of complex behavior, the contributions of behavioral approaches to comparative cognition have to date been limited. The goal of the present symposium is to highlight some recent research that utilizes behavioral methods to gain insights into complex functioning—Hackenberg on metacognition in rats, Herbranson on probabilistic choice in pigeons and people, Kirkpatrick on visual cognition in pigeons, and Zentall on identity matching and cognitive dissonance. Together, the presentations illustrate how behavior analysts might contribute to the burgeoning field of comparative cognition.
Keyword(s): comparative cognition
Metacognition in Rats?
TIMOTHY D. HACKENBERG (Reed College), Jessica Dennis (Reed College), Nicholas Kappeyne van de Coppello (Reed College)
Abstract: In studies of metacognition, animals typically are given a discrimination problem, and on some trials, are provided an opportunity to escape (terminating the trial with a smaller but certain reinforcer). In the present study, rats produced two distinct patterns of behavior and were then asked to report on their most recent behavioral pattern. Accuracy of this self-discrimination varied inversely with retention interval—the delay between the behavioral pattern and the self-report. When given an opportunity to escape, rats did so more frequently on trials with longer retention intervals. Accuracy also tended to be higher on free-choice trials (with escape option present) than on forced-choice trials (without escape option). Both of these outcomes—differential escape on low-accuracy trials and differential accuracy on free vs. forced-choice trials—are commonly accepted criteria for metacognition. By including a self-discrimination component, the present research makes explicit the relationship between metacognition and self-awareness.
Testing the Limits of Optimality: The Effect of Base Rates on Pigeons' Performance in the Monty Hall Dilemma
Abstract: Pigeons have previously been shown to respond optimally in a task analogous to the “Monty Hall dilemma” (Herbranson & Schroeder, 2010). On each trial, reinforcement was available for pecking a randomly determined response key from among three options. After an initial choice from among all three keys, birds made a second choice from among two keys, always including the key that had just been pecked and the key that could produce reinforcement. Birds performed optimally by switching keys on virtually all trials. While a bird's initial choice had no influence on the probability of gaining reinforcement, most birds nevertheless adopted a preferred key for their initial choice. Two experiments replicated this Monty Hall dilemma procedure, but with the availability of reinforcement unequally distributed across the three keys. With the inclusion of this asymmetry, the initial choice is no longer irrelevant. The best possible rate of reinforcement is attained by initially choosing the key with the lowest likelihood of reinforcement and then switching. Pigeons approximated this optimal strategy in both respects. By doing so, they earned close to the maximum possible payoff, despite the fact that the initial choices were necessarily on the key that produced the fewest reinforcers.
Factors Influencing Scene Gist Categorization by Pigeons
KIMBERLY KIRKPATRICK (Kansas State University), Tannis Sears (University of Lincoln), Bruce Hansen (Colgate University), Les Loschky (Kansas State University)
Abstract: Scene gist categorization in humans is rapid and accurate and appears to be tuned to the fundamental statistical regularities in the visual world. Although pigeons have been reported to form many types of categorical judgments, little research has examined scene categorization by pigeons. Experiment 1 tested whether pigeons were able to recognize scenes with brief exposure times. The pigeons successfully discriminated between two natural scene categories or a natural vs. a man-made category and transferred their discrimination to novel exemplars. Subsequently, the birds successfully transferred their gist discrimination to durations in the 200-350 ms range. This indicates that birds are capable of rapid scene categorization, but they require more stimulus exposure than humans. Experiment 2 examined the effect of viewpoint on gist categorization by testing performance with aerial and ground-based views. The pigeons showed a tendency to perform better to aerial views, in comparison to humans who perform better with ground-based views. Possible sources of the difference in gist categorization processes between pigeons and humans are discussed.
The Case for a Cognitive Approach to Animal Learning and Behavior
THOMAS ZENTALL (University of Kentucky)
Abstract: The dangers of hypothesizing about unobservable cognitive mechanisms are well known to behavior analysts. I propose, however, that carefully fashioned cognitive theories that make predictions that are inconsistent with current behavioral theories can provide useful research tools for the understanding of behavior. Furthermore, even if the results of such research may be accommodated by modifying existing behavioral theories, our understanding of behavior is often advanced by the empirical findings because it is unlikely that the research would have been conducted in the absence of such cognitive hypothesizing. Two examples of the study of cognitive theories will be described: The first deals with the nature of a pigeon’s “representation” of two stimuli both of which are associated with correct responding to a third in a many-to-one matching task (stimulus equivalence or common representations). Allowing for the possibility of a representation, leads to research to explore the nature of the representation. The second examines procedures that have resulted in findings that have been explained in terms of “cognitive dissonance” or “justification of effort”. We have found that pigeons too prefer conditioned reinforcers for which they have had to work harder. Such findings have lead to the development of alternative accounts of these effects in more behavioral terms.



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