A harbor seal can transfer the same/different concept to new stimulus dimensions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We investigated the formation of an abstract concept of same/different in a harbor seal by means of a two-item same/different task. Stimuli were presented on a TFT monitor. The subject was trained to respond according to whether two horizontally aligned white shapes presented on a black background were the same, or different from each other, by giving a no-go or go response. Training comprised of four stages. First, the same/different task was trained with two shapes forming two same problems (A-A and B-B) and two different problems (A-B and B-A). After the learning criterion was reached, training proceeded with new pairs of shapes. In the second experimental stage, every problem was presented just five times before new problems were introduced. We showed that training to criterion with just two shapes resulted in item-specific learning, whereas reducing the number of presentations to five per problem led to the formation of a same/different learning set as well as some restricted relational learning. Training with trial-unique problems in the third stage of this study resulted in the formation of an abstract concept of same/different which was indicated by a highly significant performance in transfer tests with 120 novel problems. Finally, extra-dimensional transfer of the concept was tested. The harbor seal showed a significantly correct performance on transfer tests with 30 unfamiliar pattern and 60 unfamiliar brightness same/different problems, thus demonstrating that the concept is not restricted to the shape dimension originally learned, but can be generalized across stimulus dimensions.


  • Christine Scholtyssek
  • Almut Kelber
  • Frederike D. Hanke
  • Guido Dehnhardt
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology


  • Abstract concepts, Learning set, Same/different, Extra-dimensional, transfer, Pinnipeds, Harbor seal
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-925
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Publication categoryResearch