Enhanced learning of natural visual sequences in newborn chicks


To what extent are newborn brains designed to operate over natural visual input? To address this question, we used a high-throughput controlled-rearing method to examine whether newborn chicks (Gallus gallus) show enhanced learning of natural visual sequences at the onset of vision. We took the same set of images and grouped them into either natural sequences (i.e., sequences showing different viewpoints of the same real-world object) or unnatural sequences (i.e., sequences showing different images of different real-world objects). When raised in virtual worlds containing natural sequences, newborn chicks developed the ability to recognize familiar images of objects. Conversely, when raised in virtual worlds containing unnatural sequences, newborn chicks’ object recognition abilities were severely impaired. In fact, the majority of the chicks raised with the unnatural sequences failed to recognize familiar images of objects despite acquiring over 100 h of visual experience with those images. Thus, newborn chicks show enhanced learning of natural visual sequences at the onset of vision. These results indicate that newborn brains are designed to operate over natural visual input.

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  1. 1.

    Due to an equipment malfunction, we were only able to analyze the imprinting rates from the input phase for half of the subjects (the subjects raised with the sequences shown in Panel B in Fig. 1).


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This research was funded by National Science Foundation CAREER Grant BCS-1351892. Stimulus images courtesy of Michael J. Tarr, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, We thank Brian W. Wood for assistance with the supplementary movies.

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Correspondence to Justin N. Wood.

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Wood, J.N., Prasad, A., Goldman, J.G. et al. Enhanced learning of natural visual sequences in newborn chicks. Anim Cogn 19, 835–845 (2016) doi:10.1007/s10071-016-0982-5

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  • Controlled rearing
  • Object recognition
  • Newborn
  • Chicken
  • Gallus gallus
  • High throughput