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Posthatching Effects of Repeated Prehatching Stimulation With an Alien Sound

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The experiment investigates the domestic chick's response to a sound heard repeatedly before hatching. The stimulus chosen for this was an alien sound found to suppress post-hatching activity: a guinea pig vocalisation. Experimental embryos were exposed on the 20th day of incubation to this sound at half-minute intervals for about one hour, and the embryos' beak-clapping was used as the index of their response. Beakclaps were suppressed by the sound stimulus. During 100 presentations there was evidence of recovery of the response - the activity-suppressing effect waned - but this recovery was unstable and beak-clapping was still suppressed below the initial level when prehatching stimulation came to an end. Control embryos were incubated in the same way, but not exposed to the sound stimulus. After hatching each chick was tested separately under conditions intended to simulate being brooded. Each was exposed to a series of the same calls as those which experimental chicks had experienced before hatching. Three response indices were used: (a) the number of beakclaps in each 30-second trial (b) the number of seconds during which the eyes were open in each trial and (c) the number of vocalisations. Eye-opening was unaffected by the pre-hatching stimulation: in both groups it was maximal at the beginning of post-hatching stimulation and declined rapidly. Beak-clapping fell slightly during stimulation in the control group but the fall became of borderline significance only after stimulation came to an end; in the experimental group it appeared to be unaffected by the sound stimulus. The level of vocalisation differed as a result of pre-hatching experience: in the experimental group it rose slowly from the prestimulation baseline level, reached a peak and then fell, while in the control group it remained at the prestimulus level in all chicks but one. Interpretation takes into account the different effects recorded, considering (a) the three different response indices (b) the suppressing effect of the sound stimulus (demonstrated before hatching) and (c) the known fact that different elements in a response wane (and presumably also recover) at different rates. It is suggested that the "eyes open" results can be understood in terms of an "orientation" reaction which wanes rapidly then recovers under the conditions of post-hatching life. In controls the beak-clapping response after hatching showed something of the activity-suppressing effect of the stimulus whereas this activity-suppressing effect appeared to have waned completely in experimental chicks. In controls vocalisations were not elicited by the stimulus while experimental chicks responded to stimulation by an increase in vocalisations. This increase, however, occurred only after a delay which suggested an initial, brief, recovery of the suppressing effect of the alien sound stimulus.

Affiliations: 1: Psychological Laboratory, University of Cambridge, England


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