Ducklings imprint on the relational concept of “same or different”

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Science  15 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6296, pp. 286-288
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4247

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  • RE: Thinking abstractly like a duck.

    July 28, 2016

    To The Editor:

    The article’:Thinking abstractly like a duck(ling)” (Science 15 July 2016, vol. 353, issue 6296, pp. 222-3) mentioned that "the article by Martinho and Kacelnik
    may allow us to jettison the stale canard that thought without language is
    impossible. " That comment, however, ducks the issue: ducks have a language; they communicate with one another by various sounds. The problem is
    we don’t understand or speak their language.

    David Nalin, MD

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Comment on “ducklings imprint on the relational concept of ‘same or different’.

    In a recent Science article by Martinho III & Kacelnik1 on same/different discrimination by ducklings using an imprinting procedure, the authors conclude:

    “The accuracy of our ducklings was comparable to, or better than, reinforced relational concept discrimination in primates (24) and crows (1). This finding supports a richer emerging view of the representation of information in the animal brain than is presently prevalent, in which even relatively simple learning systems do not process information just through the content of sensory signals but also by encoding higher-level, abstract aspects of stimulus analyses, already the target of neural network models designed to simulate such cognitive function (25).” (p. 288)

    This conclusion that concept learning by the ducklings is better than (and different from) typical reinforced relational discriminations by other animals is challenged by Peterson’s2 early experiment as reported by Skinner3—concerning the role of contingencies of reinforcement in the imprinting of newborn ducklings. Skinner indicated:

    “Operant conditioning and natural selection are combined in the so-called imprinting of a newly hatched duckling. In its natural environment the young duckling moves towards its mother and follows her as she moves about. The behavior has obvious survival value. When no duck is present, the duckling behaves in much the same way with respect to other objects. Recently it has been shown that a young ducklin...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.