Quantitative studies of animal colour constancy: using the chicken as model

Proc Biol Sci. 2016 May 11;283(1830):20160411. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0411.


Colour constancy is the capacity of visual systems to keep colour perception constant despite changes in the illumination spectrum. Colour constancy has been tested extensively in humans and has also been described in many animals. In humans, colour constancy is often studied quantitatively, but besides humans, this has only been done for the goldfish and the honeybee. In this study, we quantified colour constancy in the chicken by training the birds in a colour discrimination task and testing them in changed illumination spectra to find the largest illumination change in which they were able to remain colour-constant. We used the receptor noise limited model for animal colour vision to quantify the illumination changes, and found that colour constancy performance depended on the difference between the colours used in the discrimination task, the training procedure and the time the chickens were allowed to adapt to a new illumination before making a choice. We analysed literature data on goldfish and honeybee colour constancy with the same method and found that chickens can compensate for larger illumination changes than both. We suggest that future studies on colour constancy in non-human animals could use a similar approach to allow for comparison between species and populations.

Keywords: animal colour vision; behaviour; bird vision; generalization; vision; visual adaptation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Color Perception*
  • Color Vision
  • Goldfish
  • Lighting
  • Photic Stimulation