Animal cognition | 5 Sep 2012
A Wilkinson, J Mueller-Paul and L Huber
To recognize that a picture is a representation of a real-life object is a cognitively demanding task. It requires an organism to mentally represent the concrete object (the picture) and abstract its relation to the item that it represents. This form of representational insight has been shown in a small number of mammal and bird species. However, it has not previously been studied in reptiles. This study examined picture-object recognition in the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria). In Experiment 1, five red-footed tortoises were trained to distinguish between food and non-food objects using a two-alternative forced choice procedure. After reaching criterion, they were presented with test trials in which the real objects were replaced with color photographs of those objects. There was no difference in performance between training and test trials, suggesting that the tortoises did see some correspondence between the real object and its photographic representation. Experiment 2 examined the nature of this correspondence by presenting the tortoises with a choice between the real food object and a photograph of it. The findings revealed that the tortoises confused the photograph with the real-life object. This suggests that they process real items and photographic representations of these items in the same way and, in this context, do not exhibit representational insight.
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