'Insight' in the pigeon: antecedents and determinants of an intelligent performance

Nature. 1984 Mar;308(5954):61-2. doi: 10.1038/308061a0.


In 1917 Wolfgang Köhler reported some rather extraordinary instances of problem solving by a number of chimpanzees, and his observations have been the subject of controversy ever since. The period of quiescence that sometimes preceded the solution, its sudden onset, and its smooth, continuous emergence were proffered as evidence that (1) contrary to suggestions of learning theorists of the day, problem solving was not necessarily a trial-and-error process, and (2) constructs such as 'insight' were necessary for an adequate account. Here, in an attempt to shed further light on these issues, we have replicated with pigeons a classic problem with that Köhler confronted his chimpanzees. Pigeons that had acquired relevant skills solved the problem in a remarkably chimpanzee-like (and, perforce, human-like) fashion. The possible contributions of different experiences were determined by varying the training histories of different birds. We offer a tentative moment-to-moment account of a successful performance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Columbidae
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Extinction, Psychological
  • Intelligence*
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Problem Solving*