Abstract

Research has proved that disoriented children and nonhuman animals can reorient themselves using geometric and nongeometric features of the environment, showing conjoined use of both types of information to different degree depending on species and developmental level. Little is known of the neurobiological bases of these spatial reorientation processes. Here we take advantage of the neuroanatomical peculiarities of the visual system of birds (showing segregation of information between the two sides of the brain to a considerable degree) to investigate the way in which geometric and nongeometric information is encoded and used by the left and right hemispheres. Domestic chicks were trained binocularly in an environment with a distinctive geometry (a rectangular cage) with panels at the corners providing nongeometric cues. Between trials, chicks were passively disoriented to disable dead reckoning. When tested after removal of the panels, lefteyed chicks, but not right-eyed chicks, reoriented using the residual information provided by the geometry of the cage. When tested after removal of geometric information (i.e., in a square-shaped cage), both rightand left-eyed chicks reoriented using the residual nongeometric information provided by the panels. When trained binocularly with only geometric information, at test, left-eyed chicks reoriented better than right-eyed chicks. Finally, when geometric and nongeometric cues provided contradictory information, left-eyed chicks showed more reliance on geometric cues, whereas right-eyed chicks showed more reliance on nongeometric cues. The results suggest separate mechanisms for dealing with spatial reorientation problems, with the right hemisphere taking charge of large-scale geometry of the environment and with both hemispheres taking charge of local, nongeometric cues when available in isolation, but with a predominance of the left hemisphere when competition between geometric and nongeometric information occurs.

This content is only available as a PDF.