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Representation of two geometric features of the environment in the domestic chick (Gallus gallus)
Author: Tommasi, Luca and Polli, Camilla
Journal: Animal Cognition
Volume: 7
Year: 2004
Pages: 53—59

We report experiments based on a novel test in domestic chicks ( Gallus gallus), designed to examine the encoding of two different geometric features of an enclosed environment: relative lengths of the walls and amplitude of the corners. Chicks were trained to search for a food reward located in one corner of a parallelogram-shaped enclosure. Between trials, chicks were passively disoriented and the enclosure was rotated, making reorientation possible only on the basis of the internal spatial structure of the enclosure. In order to reorient, chicks could rely on two sources of information: the relative lengths of the walls of the enclosure (associated to their left-right sense order) and the angles subtended by walls at corners. Chicks learned the task choosing equally often the reinforced corner and its rotational equivalent. Results of tests carried out in novel enclosures, the shapes of which were chosen ad hoc (1) to induce reorientation based only on the ratio of walls lengths plus sense (rectangular enclosure), or (2) to induce reorientation based only on corner angles (rhombus-shaped enclosure), suggested that chicks encoded both features of the environment. In a third test, in which chicks faced a conflict between these geometric features (mirror parallelogram-shaped enclosure), reorientation seemed to depend on the salience of corner angles. These results shed light on the elements of the environmental geometry which control spatial reorientation, and broaden the knowledge on the geometric representation of space in animals.