Some psychophysics of the pigeon's use of landmarks

Ken Cheng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Citations (Scopus)


1. Three pigeons (Columba livid) were trained to find hidden food in a sunken well (3.3 cm in diameter) at a constant place within an (160 cm×160 cm) experimental box (Fig. 1). After learning the location, the animals were tested occasionally with the well and food absent. Landmarks in the experimental box might be transformed on such tests. 2. Changing the height or width of a nearby landmark had no systematic influence on the position of peak search. Translating a nearby landmark, however, led to a shift in peak search position. All three birds then searched most somewhere between the original goal location, as defined by the unmoved landmarks, and the goal location as defined by the shifted landmark. Within a limited range of landmark shift, the peak shift as a function of landmark shift is linear (Fig. 3). 3. To explain the data (Fig. 7), the pigeon records at the location of the goal the algebraic vectors from a number of landmarks to the goal. These vectors have both a direction and a distance component. When searching for the goal again in the experimental box, it computes independently for each landmark a navigation vector. This is arrived at by vector-adding the algebraic vector from the bird's current position to the landmark in question, supplied by perception, to the corresponding landmark-goal vector in its record. The pigeon moves in the direction and distance specified by a weighted average of the independently calculated navigation vectors. For positive vector weights, vector geometry guarantees that the bird would search somewhere between the original goal and the goal according to the shifted landmark. The extent to which it shifts toward the shifted goal reflects the vector weight given to the shifted landmark.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)815-826
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1988
Externally publishedYes


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