Honors Theses and Capstones

Investigations of Change Detection in People and Pigeons

Date of Award

Spring 2016

Project Type

Senior Honors Thesis

College or School



Biological Sciences; Psychology

Program or Major

Neuroscience and Behavior

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

First Advisor

Brett Gibson


Change detection, the awareness of a visual change in your surroundings, is important in daily life in both human and non-human animals for attending to a varied array of changes, and relies on a well-established visual short-term memory (VSTM). While detecting environmental changes may sound simple, studies have found humans and non-human animals to be blind to many changes in visual scenes; a phenomenon referred to as change blindness. We tested visual change detection in both humans and pigeons in this study, seeking to determine if the perceptual mechanisms involved are similar in both species, such as to allow pigeons to be used as a model for understanding change detection in humans. In this study, a varying number of items were briefly presented on a computer and after a short delay, one, all, or none of the images were changed, and subjects then had to identify whether or not there was a change in the scene. Both humans and pigeons were tested on the same program with similar parameters to eliminate variables in mental processing and physical limitations. Both species were found to have similar patterns of change detection, suggesting similarities in visual processing. However, while change awareness in humans decreases as the complexity of the scene increases and as fewer changes were made, pigeons show an overall worse ability to detect change irrespective of display size or experiment. Pigeons appear to bottom out and VSTM may thus be lower for pigeons than humans, perhaps due to differences in brain structures and evolutionary histories. More work should be done on the retention time and time constraints of pigeon VSTM in comparison to human VSTM.

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