Volume 7: pp. 23-43

Neurophysiological Studies of Learning and Memory in Pigeons

by Michael Colombo
University of Otago

Damian Scarf
University of Otago

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The literature on the neural basis of learning and memory is replete with studies using rats and monkey, but hardly any using pigeons. This is odd because so much of what we know about animal behavior comes from studies with pigeons. The unwillingness to use pigeons in neural studies of learning and memory probably stems from two factors, one that the avian brain is seen as radically different from the mammalian brain and as such can contribute little to its understanding, and the other that the behavior of pigeons is not seen as sophisticated as that of mammals, and certainly primates. Studies over the past few decades detailing the remarkable cognitive abilities of pigeons, as well as a newly revised nomenclature for the avian brain, should spark a renewed interest in using pigeons as models to understand the neural basis of learning and memory. Here we review studies on the pigeon’s hippocampus and ‘prefrontal cortex’ and show that they provide information not only on the workings of the avian brain, but also shed light on the operation of the mammalian brain.

Keywords: hippocampus, NCL, avian, memory, single-unit

Colombo, K., & Scarf, D. (2012). Neurophysiological Studies of Learning and Memory in Pigeons. Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews, 7, 23-43. Retrieved from http://comparative-cognition-and-behavior-reviews.org/ doi:10.3819/ccbr.2012.70002