An automated controlled-rearing method for studying the origins of movement recognition in newly hatched chicks

Jason G. Goldman and Justin N. Wood

University of Southern California

Movement recognition is central to visual perception and cognition, yet its origins are poorly understood. Can newborn animals encode and recognize movements at the onset of vision, or does this ability have a protracted developmental trajectory? To address this question, we used an automated controlled-rearing method with a newborn animal model: the domestic chick (Gallus gallus). This automated method made it possible to collect over 150 test trials from each subject. In their first week of life, chicks were raised in controlled-rearing chambers that contained a single virtual agent who repeatedly performed three movements. In their second week of life, we tested whether chicks could recognize the agent’s movements. Chicks successfully recognized both individual movements and sequences of movements. Further, chicks successfully encoded the order that movements occurred within a sequence. These results indicate that newborn visual systems can encode and recognize movements at the onset of vision and argue for an increased focus on automated controlledrearing methods for studying the emergence of perceptual and cognitive abilities.

Results from Experiments 1–3. a Subjects’ average movement recognition performance in the three experiments. Chance performance was 50%. Error bars denote standard error. b Performance of each individual chick (ordered by performance). The graphs show the total number of correct and incorrect test trials for each chick across the test phase. p values denote the statistical difference between the number of correct and incorrect test trials, as computed through one-tailed binomial tests