Pigeons can discriminate space, time: Study

WASHINGTON (Xinhua) – Just like human being, pigeons can discriminate the abstract concepts of both space and time, a new study said Monday.

But they seem to use a different region of the brain than humans to do so, according to the study published in the US journal Current Biology.

The finding adds to growing recognition in the scientific community that lower-order animal species – such as birds, reptiles, and fish – are capable of high-level, abstract decision-making, it said.

“Indeed, the cognitive prowess of birds is now deemed to be ever closer to that of both human and nonhuman primates,” Professor Edward Wasserman of the University of Iowa, who led the study, said in a statement.

“Those avian nervous systems are capable of far greater achievements than the pejorative term ‘bird brain’ would suggest,” said Wasserman, who has studied intelligence in pigeons, crows, baboons and other animals for more than four decades.

In a series of experiments called the “common magnitude” test, pigeons were shown on a computer screen a static horizontal line either six centimetres or 24 centimetres long for either two seconds or eight seconds.

First author Benjamin De Corte, a third-year graduate student at the University of Iowa, said the results show pigeons process space and time in ways similar to humans and other primates.

In humans, the brain region that perceives space and time is the parietal cortex, located at the outermost layer of the brain. The pigeon brain doesn’t have a parietal cortex, so the researchers reckoned that the birds may employ another area of the brain to discriminate between space and time.

“The cortex is not unique to judging space and time,” said De Corte. “The pigeons have other brain systems that allow them to perceive these dimensions.”