Virtual Reality
A Computerized Virtual String Test On Pigeons

What would you normally see when you go for a walk to a public place or an open ground? Apart from the fellow joggers, its the green grass and the birds around make the experience wonderful. You can see number of birds like pigeons pecking at the ground, always searching for its food.

The birds scavenging may seem random, but a research study suggests that the birds are capable of making intelligent choices along with the knowledge and skill to solve the problems.

Birds looked at a computer touch screen with square buttons connected to either dishes that appeared to be full or empty. If the bird pecked the correct button on the screen, the virtual full bowl would move closer, ultimately to thThe psychologists at the University of Iowa focused on the “string task”, a standard test of intelligence that involves joining a treat to one of the two strings and seeing if the participant can roll in that treat by pulling the correct string. The participants can either be humans or animals or birds.

Taking birds into the digital age, the research team of Prof.Edward Wasserman experimented virtual reality on pigeons. The birds were taken to the computer touch screens with square buttons connected to the dishes that appear either empty or full. The pigeon will be rewarded with real food if it pecks the correct button on the screen. As soon as the bird pokes the correct button, the virtual full bowl would move closer to it, ultimately gratifying pigeon with real food.

“The pigeons proved that they could indeed learn this task with a variety of different string configurations—even those that involved crossed strings, the most difficult of all configurations to learn with real strings,” says Wasserman, Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology and the corresponding author of the study published in the journal Animal Cognition.

During experiments, the team figured out that the pigeons correctly choose between three variety of string tests with an accuracy ranging between 74 percent and 90 percent. The tests proved that the virtual string tests can be used with other animal species replacing the conventional string experiments.

The team found that the pigeons scan and bob their heads along the string and confirmed that the birds noted the connection between the virtual strings and the dishes as they were often looking toward and pecking at the dish as it moves down the screen.

According to the scientists, the virtual string task represents a promising innovation in the development of comparative psychology. The experiment not only testifies the power and versatility of the computerized string task but also shows that the pigeons can simultaneously struggle against a wide range of patterned-string problems.

The research paper named “Pigeons learn virtual patterned-string problems in a computerized touch screen environment” was published in the month of march, 3013. The project was funded by the UI psychology department.

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