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Fish as a Natural Category for People and Pigeons11We gratefully acknowledge James Q. Wilson's generosity and trust in allowing us to reproduce about 350 of his 35-mm slides of underwater scenes. Wilson used a Nikon underwater SLR camera and took most of the pictures using artificial light, although a few, nearer the water surface, used natural light. Special thanks are also owed to Jill de Villiers for commenting on earlier drafts of the paper and for participating in the initial planning of the study. Erica Paquette deserves thanks, too, for volunteering to run subjects when help was short. Preparation of the article and some of the laboratory facilities were supported by Grant MH-15494 from NIMH to Harvard University. Finally, we must thank the William F. Milton Fund of Harvard University, which paid for the reproduction of the slide collection.

Elsevier Science & Technology
DOI: 10.1016/s0079-7421(08)60159-0


Publisher Summary This chapter describes and compares the result of three experiments, one on human subjects and the other on pigeons, and draws conclusions about categorization in light of the results. The chapter establishes rankings of the photographs for human subjects, using reaction time to quantify the discriminability or acceptability of the fish or non-fish in a collection of 35-mm slides. Twelve human subjects responded to 160 underwater photographs to indicate whether they saw a fish or not. Four pigeons rapidly learned to sort underwater photographs being seen for the first time according to the presence or absence of fish in them. For a quasi-concept, a set of instances sorted according to the presence or absence of fish divided randomly, with as many fish in the negative class as in the positive. Pigeons learned to sort 80 stimuli into two categories. They learned quicker when the categories corresponded to fish versus non-fish than when the same stimuli divided into two arbitrary categories. Seven out of seven pigeons in two experiments learned to sort underwater photographs on the basis of the presence or absence of fish.

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