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Thomas Zentall

Research Interests:

My research interests focus on cognitive behaviors in animals including memory strategies, concept learning, and other human behaviors like gambling and procrastination. The approach my students and I use is to define a behavior that is characteristic of humans and then to examine the conditions under which it can be found in animals to determine the mechanisms responsible for both. This approach examines the relatively unexplored repertoire of animal behavior that has been thought to distinguish humans from other animals. For example, just like humans, pigeons prefer to choose a seldom occuring "jackpot" over a guaranteed overall larger reward. The mechanisms responsible for this suboptimal choice appear to be the same for pigeons as for humans. For more information on my research and laboratory, click here.

Graduate Training

Ph.D. Univ. of California at Berkeley, 1969

Selected Publications:


  • Zentall, T. R., & Stagner, J. P. (2011). Maladaptive choice behavior by pigeons: An animal analog of gambling (sub-optimal human decision making behavior). Proceedings of the Royal Society B:Biological Sciences, 278, 1203-1208.
  • Zentall, T. R. (2011). Maladaptive gambling by pigeons. Behavioural Processes, 87, 50–56.
  • Friedrich, A. M., & Zentall, T. R. (2011). A differential-outcomes effect in pigeons using hedonically nondifferential outcomes. Learning & Behavior, 39, 68-78. 
  • Rayburn-Reeves, R. M., Molet, M., Zentall, T. R. (2011). Simultaneous discrimination reversal learning in pigeons and humans: Anticipatory and perseverative errors. Learning & Behavior, 39, 125-137.
  • Molet, M., Miller, H. C., & Zentall, T. R. (2011). Acquired equivalence between stimuli trained in the same context. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 618-623.
  • Molet, M., Alessandri, J., & Zentall, T. R. (2011). Subjective time: Cognitive and physical secondary tasks affect timing differently. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 1344–1353.
  • Zentall, T. R. (2011). Animal intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg & S. B. Kaufman (Eds.). The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence (pp. 309-327). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Zentall, T. R. (2011). Social learning mechanisms: Implications for a cognitive theory of imitation. Interaction Studies, 12, 233-261. 
  • Stagner, J. P., Laude, J. R., & Zentall, T. R. (2011). Sub-optimal choice in pigeons does not depend on avoidance of the stimulus associated with the absence of reinforcement. Learning and Motivation, 42, 282-287.
  • Singer, R. A. & Zentall, T. R. (2011). Preference for the outcome that follows a relative aversive event: Contrast or delay reduction? Learning and Motivation, 42, 255-271.
  • Zentall, T. R. (2012). What we can learn about ourselves from studying other animals. Psychological Record, 62, 159–162.
  • Molet, M., Miller, H. C., & Zentall, T. R. (2012). Acquired equivalence of cues by presentation in a common context in rats. Animal Cognition, 15, 143-147.
  • Zentall, T. R. (2012). Selective and divided attention in birds. In O. F. Lazareva, T. Shimizu, & E. A. Wasserman (Eds.),  How Animals See the World: Comparative Behavior, Biology, and Evolution of Vision (pp351-369). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Zentall, T. R. (2012). Working memory in animals. In Zentall, T. R. & Wasserman, E. A. (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Cognition (pp 215-238). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Zentall, T. R., Singer, R. A., Clement, T. S., Freidrich, A. M., & Alessandri, J. (2012). Stimuli signaling rewards that follow a less-preferred event are themselves preferred: Implications for cognitive dissonance. In Zentall, T. R. & Wasserman, E. A. (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Cognition (pp 199-212). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pattison, K. F., Zentall, T. R., & Watanabe, S. (2012). Sunk cost: Pigeons (Columba livia) too show bias to complete a task rather than shift to another. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 126, 1-9.
  • Zentall, T. R. (2012). The heuristic value of cognitive terminology. The Psychological Record, 62, 321–336.
  • Zentall, T. R. (in press). Perspectives on social learning. Journal of Comparative Psychology
  • Neilsen, M., Subiaul, F., Galef, B. G., Zentall, T. R., & Whiten, A. (Eds.). (in press). Social learning in humans and non-human animals: theoretical and empirical dissections: Special Issue. Journal of Comparative Psychology
  • Rayburn-Reeves, R. M., Stagner, J. P., Kirk, C. R. & Zentall, T. R. (in press). Reversal learning in rats (Rattus norvegicus) and pigeons (Columba livia): Qualitative differences in behavioral flexibility. Journal of Comparative Psychology.
  • Molet, M., Miller, H. C., Laude, J. R., Kirk, C., Manning, B., & Zentall, T. R. (in press). Decision-making by humans as assessed by a choice task: Do humans, like pigeons, show sub-optimal choice? Learning & Behavior DOI 10.3758/s13420-012-0065-7.
  • Zentall, T. R., & Stagner, J. P. (2012). Do pigeons prefer information in the absence of differential reinforcement? Learning & Behavior DOI 10.3758/s13420-012-0067-5.
  • Miller, H. C., DeWall, C. N., Pattison, K. F., Molet, M., & Zentall, T. R. (in press). Too dog tired to avoid danger: Self-control depletion in canines increases behavioral approach toward an aggressive threat. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-012-0231-0