Sexing day-old chicks: A case study and expert systems analysis of a difficult perceptual-learning task

Irving Biederman, Margaret M. Shiffrar
1987 Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory and Cognition  
The sexing of day-old chicks has been regarded as an extraordinarily difficult perceptual task requiring years of extensive practice for its mastery. Experts can sex chicks at over 98% accuracy at a rate of 1,000 chicks per hour spending less than a half second viewing the cloacal region. Naive subjects were shown 18 pictures of cloacal regions of male and female chicks (in random appearing arrangement) and asked to judge the sex of each chick. The pictures included a number of rare and
more » ... t configurations. The subjects were then instructed as to the location of a critical cloacal structure for which a simple contrast in shape (convex vs. concave or flat) could serve as an indicant of sex. When the subjects judged the pictures again (in a different order), accuracy increased from slightly above chance to a level comparable to that achieved by a sample of experts. The correlation (over items) between the naive subjects and the experts before instruction was .21; after instruction, .82. The instructions were based on an interview and observation of an expert who had spent 50 years sexing 55 million chicks. Much of the reported difficulty in developing perceptual expertise in this task may stem from the need to classify extremely rare configurations in which the convexity of the structure is not apparent. The rate of learning of these instances could be greatly increased through the use of simple instructions that specified the location of diagnostic contour contrasts. A parallel is drawn between learning to sex chicks and learning to classify tanks as friend or foe.
doi:10.1037/0278-7393.13.4.640 fatcat:qfuj6ecqujexbkq5fxvqqbjloi