Concept learning set-size functions for Clark's nutcrackers

J Exp Anal Behav. 2016 Jan;105(1):76-84. doi: 10.1002/jeab.174. Epub 2015 Nov 29.


Same/Different abstract-concept learning by Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) was tested with novel stimuli following learning of training set expansion (8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, and 1024 picture items). The resulting set-size function was compared to those from rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), and pigeons (Columba livia). Nutcrackers showed partial concept learning following initial eight-item set learning, unlike the other species (Magnotti, Katz, Wright, & Kelly, 2015). The mean function for the nutcrackers' novel-stimulus transfer increased linearly as a function of the logarithm of training set size, which intersected its baseline function at the 128-item set size. Thus, nutcrackers on average achieved full concept learning (i.e., transfer statistically equivalent to baseline performance) somewhere between set sizes of 64 to 128 items, similar to full concept learning by monkeys. Pigeons required a somewhat larger training set (256 items) for full concept learning, but results from other experiments (initial training and transfer with 32- and 64-item set sizes) suggested carryover effects with smaller set sizes may have artificially prolonged the pigeon's full concept learning. We find it remarkable that these diverse species with very different neural architectures can fully learn this same/different abstract concept, and (at least under some conditions) do so with roughly similar sets sizes (64-128 items) and numbers of training exemplars, despite initial concept learning advantages (nutcrackers), learning disadvantages (pigeons), or increasing baselines (monkeys).

Keywords: abstract concepts; concept learning; monkeys; nutcrackers; pigeons; same/different.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cebus / psychology
  • Columbidae
  • Concept Formation*
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Female
  • Generalization, Psychological
  • Macaca mulatta / psychology
  • Male
  • Passeriformes
  • Psychology, Comparative