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A critical cue for figure–ground assignment in humans is area: smaller regions are more likely to be perceived as figures than are larger regions. To see if pigeons are similarly sensitive to this cue, we trained birds to report whether a target appeared on a colored figure or on a differently colored background. The initial training figure was either smaller than (Experiments 1 and 2) or the same area as (Experiment 2) the background. After training, we increased or decreased the size of the figure. When the original training shape was smaller than the background, pigeons’ performance improved with smaller figures (and worsened with larger figures); when the original training shape was the same area as the background, pigeons’ performance worsened when they were tested with smaller figures. A smaller figural region appeared to improve the figure–ground discrimination only when size was a relevant cue in the initial discrimination.


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