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Curr Biol. 2000 Sep 7;10(17):1079-81.

Asymmetry pays: visual lateralization improves discrimination success in pigeons.

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Biopsychologie, Fakultät für Psychologie, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 44780 Bochum, Germany.


Functional cerebral asymmetries, once thought to be exclusively human, are now accepted to be a widespread principle of brain organization in vertebrates [1]. The prevalence of lateralization makes it likely that it has some major advantage. Until now, however, conclusive evidence has been lacking. To analyze the relation between the extent of cerebral asymmetry and the degree of performance in visual foraging, we studied grain-grit discrimination success in pigeons, a species with a left hemisphere dominance for visual object processing [2,3]. The birds performed the task under left-eye, right-eye or binocular seeing conditions. In most animals, right-eye seeing was superior to left-eye seeing performance, and binocular performance was higher than each monocular level. The absolute difference between left- and right-eye levels was defined as a measure for the degree of visual asymmetry. Animals with higher asymmetries were more successful in discriminating grain from grit under binocular conditions. This shows that an increase in visual asymmetry enhances success in visually guided foraging. Possibly, asymmetries of the pigeon's visual system increase the computational speed of object recognition processes by concentrating them into one hemisphere while preventing the other side of the brain from initiating conflicting search sequences of its own.

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