Discrimination of moving video images of self by pigeons (Columba livia)

Koji Toda, Shigeru Watanabe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The ability to recognize self has been known to be limited to some animal species, but previous research has focused almost exclusively on the animal's reaction to a mirror. Recent studies suggest that the temporal contingency between a subject's action and the corresponding visual scene reflected in a mirror plays an important role in self-recognition. To assess the roles of visual-proprioceptive contiguity in self-recognition, we explored whether pigeons are able to discriminate videos of themselves with various temporal properties. We trained five pigeons to respond to live video images of themselves (live self-movies) and not to video filmed during previous training sessions (pre-recorded self-movies). Pigeons learned to peck trial-unique live self-movies more frequently than pre-recorded self-movies. We conducted two generalization tests after pigeons learned to discriminate between the two conditions. First, discrimination acquired during training sessions was transferred to a test session involving live self-movies and new pre-recorded self-movies. Second, the same pigeons were tested in extinction procedure using delayed live self-movies and new pre-recorded self-movies. Although pigeons responded to delayed presentations of live self-movies more frequently than to new pre-recorded self-movies, the relative response rate to delayed presentation of live self-movies gradually decreased as the temporal discrepancy between pigeons' own behavior and the corresponding video increased. These results indicate that pigeons' discrimination of self-movies with various temporal properties was based on the temporal contiguity between their behavior and its visual feedback. The methodology used in the present experiment is an important step toward improving the experimental analysis of self-recognition in non-human animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)699-705
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Oct


  • Birds
  • Motion
  • Pigeons
  • Self-recognition
  • Visual discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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