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A note on social dominance and learning ability in the domestic chicken ( Gallus gallus )

By C. C. Croney, N. Prince-Kelly, C. L. Meller

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Relatively little is known about the relationship between social behavior and specific cognitive abilities of the chicken. It is uncertain whether dominant birds have a cognitive advantage over subordinate birds that might facilitate their superior position in the social hierarchy. Likewise, it is unknown whether subordinate birds compete successfully with higher ranking birds because their cognitive capacities compensate for physical deficits. In this study, the relationship between the chicken's position in the dominance hierarchy and its performance on a cognitive task was explored. Ten pairs of New Hampshire domestic roosters (Gallus gallus) were observed to determine dominance or subordinance within dyads. All birds were then trained and tested on a visual discrimination learning task. Discriminative stimuli were orange and green plastic discs. Correct stimuli (orange or green) were randomly assigned to birds. Placement of the discs (left or right of center) was also randomly assigned and counterbalanced to avoid a side bias. Birds were rewarded with food for pecking at the correct disc. Criterion for task completion was 80% correct responses on three consecutive test sessions or 86% correct on two consecutive sessions. All subjects met the test criterion. The number of trials to criterion was compared between dominant and subordinate birds using a paired t-test. No difference was found in performance between dominant and subordinate birds (p>0.05) suggesting that in chickens, ability to learn a novel visual discrimination task is not well correlated with rank. Additional studies, particularly using different learning paradigms, are needed to confirm these results.

Date 2007
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 105
Issue 1/3
Pages 254-258
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address Department of Animal Sciences, Oregon State University, 112 Withycombe Hall, Corvallis, Oregon, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Birds
  3. Chickens
  4. Cognition
  5. Conditioning
  6. Fowls
  7. Learning
  8. Learning ability
  9. Learning capacity
  10. Mental development
  11. peer-reviewed
  12. Poultry
  13. Social behavior
  14. Social Dominance
  15. stimuli
  1. peer-reviewed