New research shows that pigeons can discriminate abstract concepts of space and time, and seem to use a region of the brain different from humans and primates to do it.  Credit: Kathryn Gamble
Pigeons are such a common sight on city sidewalks around the world that most people do not take a second look at them. But these urban birds are not only adept at adapting to metropolitan life, but they are also capable of capturing abstract concepts such as space and time, according to a new study.
Researchers recently discovered that pigeons can recognize how much space and object an object occupies, and how much time is visible, a task that humans achieve by using the region of the brain known as the cortex.
But pigeons, and all birds, lack a developed crust. Scientists discovered that pigeons use a different brain region to perceive space and time, and yet they process this information in a similar way to that found in humans and other primates. [10 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know about Animals]
Birds are known to perform "exceptionally well" in certain tasks that in mammals are related to the function of the cerebral cortex, according to the study. And pigeons have shown again and again that they are capable of cognitive achievements typically badociated with the more complex brains of mammals. Previous research has shown that pigeons can recognize human faces, solve statistical problems and even distinguish between real English words and meaningless gibberish, according to Live Science.
For the new study, the scientists presented pigeons with experiments used to evaluate human and non-human primates' ability to perceive space and time. Pigeons were trained to select visual symbols on a computer screen in response to seeing lines of different lengths, 2 inches or 9 inches (6 or 24 centimeters), and lines of similar length that were visible for different durations, either 2 seconds or 8 seconds. The correct identification of a line as "short" or "long" in length or duration delivered a food reward.
Pigeons were not only able to correctly identify the line images, but their performance during the modified tests offered additional information on how the avian brain processes abstract information such as space and time. When scientists introduced variations in the tests (line lengths and durations that were not included when training the birds), they saw that the perceptions of the two states were related to the pigeons. In other words, changes in the length of the lines affected their perception of duration, a phenomenon that had already been observed in monkeys, the study authors wrote.
Their findings suggest that this type of perception does not only necessarily require a cortex, but that evolution may have shaped the comparable brain region in birds, the canopy, to process information in a manner similar to the cortex, although they are structurally very different.
It is also likely that this ability is more among animals than previously suspected, the researchers reported.
"These avian nervous systems are capable of much greater achievements than the pejorative term" bird brain "would suggest, co-author of the study, Edward Wbaderman, professor of experimental psychology in the Department of Psychological Sciences. and Brain of the University of Iowa, said in a statement.
"In fact, the cognitive dexterity of birds is now considered to be always closed to that of human and non-human primates," Wbaderman said.
The findings were published online today (Dec. 4) in the journal Current Biology.
Original article Live Science .