Development Of Complex, Stereotyped Behavior In Pigeons

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Journal Of The Experimental Analysis Of Behavior


A pigeon's peck on one key moved a light down one position in a 5×5 matrix of lights, while a peck on another key moved the light across one position. Reinforcement depended upon the occurrence of four pecks on each key (moving the matrix light from the top left to the bottom right), and a fifth peck on either key ended a trial without food. Though there were 70 different sequences that led to reinforcement, each of 12 pigeons developed a particular, stereotyped sequence which dominated its behavior (Experiment 1). Extinction produced substantial increases in sequence variability (Experiment 2). Removal of the matrix cues disrupted performance, though it partially recovered with extended training (Experiment 3). The pigeons did not master a contingency which required a different sequence on the current trial than on the previous one (Experiment 4), though they were able to learn to emit sequences which began with either left-left or left-right response patterns (Experiment 5). The experiments suggest that contingencies of reinforcement may contribute to the creation of complex units of behavior, and that stereotypy may be a likely consequence of contingent reinforcement.