Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mr Nobody: pigeon superstition

Title: Mr. Nobody
Year: 2009
Director: Jaco Van Dormael
Running time: 133 min.
Country: Belgium

It is very interesting to find a non-pigeon-oriented film (I mean, not a documentary about pigeons) where the main credits are exclusively devoted to a beautiful dove. And of top of that, to illustrate how clever the animal is at solving complex tasks.  Indirectly, this scene also introduces us to "pigeon superstitious animal behaviour".

In the scene we can see how a dove is trying to catch a piece of food. Unfortunately, the tasty meal is too high and the bird cannot reach it.

Oops!!! The pigeon realises that the food is too high.

The suspense level dramatically increases when the dove notices the existence of a pedestal than can be used to reach a higher position but it is too far away from the food.

However, the dove is able to drag it using its beak, and finally, in a quite surprising way, leverages it to reach the tasty meal. From the bird's perspective, this is a happy end to the story.

The pigeon is dragging the pedestal

And finally gets the food

If this scene was not enough birdy propaganda, the film producers use additional time in the film's credits to  show more experiments (in black and white) showcasing pigeons solving complex tasks.  The complete scene can be seen here.

In the following experiment we can see the presence of superstition in pigeons. In the experiment, some food was automatically provided to the pigeons at regular intervals of time, with independence of the animal's conduct. What happened was that the pigeons seemed to associate the delivery of the food with the actions they had been doing before and, with the intention of obtaining more food, they continued  to perform the same actions

A happy superstitious pigeon.

The interesting thing about this theory was it's link with human behaviour.

The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. There are many analogies in human behavior. Rituals for changing one's fortune at cards are good examples. A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances. The bowler who has released a ball down the alley but continues to behave as if she were controlling it by twisting and turning her arm and shoulder is another case in point. These behaviors have, of course, no real effect upon one's luck or upon a ball half way down an alley, just as in the present case the food would appear as often if the pigeon did nothing—or, more strictly speaking, did something else.

Details of the pigeon starring 

  • Source:  Mr Nobody. Starring moment: 0:1:13.
  • Pigeon activity: Pigeons and doves appear solving complex tasks and proving that they can exhibit complex behaviours. 
  • Symbolism: High. This scene can be seen as a allegory of the different choices that one person makes in his life and how they change his/her destiny. 
  • Relevance: Low. It is surprising to see how such pigeon-intensive credits have no relevance to the film's plot. 
  • Training level: Medium. Some of the pigeons were subjected to an artificial environment that causes the behaviours described in this post. 


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