LearningOperant Conditioning

A Pigeon Solves the Classic Box-and-Banana Problem

The “box and banana” problem is a classic example of a task that requires an animal to use their cognitive abilities to solve a problem and obtain a reward. In this task, a pigeon (or other animal) is presented with a box that contains a banana (or other desired item) that is out of reach. The pigeon must figure out how to open the box or otherwise access the banana in order to obtain it as a reward.

There are a number of different ways that a pigeon might solve this problem, depending on their cognitive abilities and the specific characteristics of the task. Some possible strategies that a pigeon might use to solve the box and banana problem are as follows:

  1. Physical manipulation: The pigeon might use its beak or other body parts to try to open the box or to knock the banana out of the box.
  2. Tool use: The pigeon might use a tool (such as a stick or piece of string) to try to retrieve the banana from the box.
  3. Social learning: The pigeon might observe another animal (such as a human) solving the problem and then imitate that behavior in order to obtain the reward.
  4. Problem-solving: The pigeon might use its cognitive abilities to analyze the problem and come up with a novel solution that involves combining or adapting different strategies.

It is worth noting that the ability to solve the box and banana problem is not unique to pigeons, and that other animals (such as monkeys, apes, and humans) are also capable of solving this type of problem. The specific strategies that an animal uses to solve the problem may depend on their cognitive abilities and the specific characteristics of the task.

This original footage shows a pigeon solving a reasoning problem involving how to reach a small banana placed just out of its reach. The pigeon considers the situation and then pushes a small box in place under the banana, hops on top of the box, and gets the banana.

Reasoning skills, as well as language, were once thought of as uniquely human traits; what characteristics make humans unique among animals?

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