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Age Variability Shown By Domestic Chicks in Selected Spatial Tasks

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Chicks of 3, 6 and 13-14 days of age were trained for one or more days to find a worm which was removed from their sight. The birds were exposed to three different test situations of increasing difficulty: the worm disappeared 1) into a tunnel and reappeared on the other side of it; 2) behind a single screen and 3) behind one of two screens opposite each other. All birds rapidly learned where to look for the worm after they had discovered it fortuituously in a few trials. The acquisition of their search strategies seemed to involve place learning rather than control by the preliminary exposure of the moving worm. Differences in the performance of the 3 age groups appeared either a) in all experiments or b) with regard to a particular situation. a) Throughout the research, the latencies with which the birds moved towards the reward area at the beginning of the training procedures diminished with increasing age. b) In experiment 1), the visual discovery of the worm occurred most rapidly in the oldest birds, for reason which may have involved their general behaviour in the unfamiliar test situation as well as visual acuity or other developmental factors. In experiment 3), on the contrary, the youngest chicks learned best to make the correct directional choice, very probably because of their more continuous and intense tracking behaviour during the preliminary exposure of the moving worm. These results suggest that from a general cognitive point of view, all birds acquired similar search patterns, independently of age and experimental situation. Their actual performance, on the other hand, seemed to be influenced by common developmental factors (concerning for instance locomotion) as well as by specific changes with age in their response to certain components of any given test situation. These unrelated changes may explain apparent contradictory findings by other authors concerning space (and other) learning in chicks.

Affiliations: 1: Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge, Madingley, England


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