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Sex differences in learning ability in a common songbird, the great tit-females are better observational learners than males

Brodin, Anders LU and Urhan, Utku LU (2015) In Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 69(2). p.237-241
Abstract
In mammals, including humans, the most consistent cognitive sex difference appears to be a male advantage in spatial ability. Usually, some sex-correlated selective advantage is inferred to explain this, for example, the need for males to navigate over large territories. In birds, sex differences in learning abilities are rare. Here, we show that females of a common European songbird, the great tit, do clearly better than males in an observational memorization task. We allowed caged great tits to observe food-caching marsh tits in an indoor aviary. One hour later, the great tits were released to search for the cached food. Females consistently performed better than males in this task. The results are remarkable for several reasons: (i) a... (More)
In mammals, including humans, the most consistent cognitive sex difference appears to be a male advantage in spatial ability. Usually, some sex-correlated selective advantage is inferred to explain this, for example, the need for males to navigate over large territories. In birds, sex differences in learning abilities are rare. Here, we show that females of a common European songbird, the great tit, do clearly better than males in an observational memorization task. We allowed caged great tits to observe food-caching marsh tits in an indoor aviary. One hour later, the great tits were released to search for the cached food. Females consistently performed better than males in this task. The results are remarkable for several reasons: (i) a sex difference in a cognitive ability of such a magnitude is unusual; (ii) most sex differences in spatial ability that have been reported so far concerns a male advantage; and perhaps most remarkably, (iii) female great tits were as successful in relocating the cached food as the hoarding marsh tits themselves. We hypothesize that female great tits are better at this than males because they are subordinate foragers. Males have prior access to food in nature and can easily displace females. Females will then benefit from a special ability to memorize caching positions that makes it possible for them to return and retrieve the food later when males are not around. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Cognitive sex difference, Spatial memory, Great tit, Observational, learning
in
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
volume
69
issue
2
pages
237 - 241
publisher
Springer
external identifiers
  • wos:000347818500007
  • scopus:84926680863
ISSN
1432-0762
DOI
10.1007/s00265-014-1836-2
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
925c8632-9dc1-4c4d-baf3-c10850f35020 (old id 5069131)
date added to LUP
2015-02-25 13:53:05
date last changed
2017-10-01 04:02:54
@article{925c8632-9dc1-4c4d-baf3-c10850f35020,
  abstract     = {In mammals, including humans, the most consistent cognitive sex difference appears to be a male advantage in spatial ability. Usually, some sex-correlated selective advantage is inferred to explain this, for example, the need for males to navigate over large territories. In birds, sex differences in learning abilities are rare. Here, we show that females of a common European songbird, the great tit, do clearly better than males in an observational memorization task. We allowed caged great tits to observe food-caching marsh tits in an indoor aviary. One hour later, the great tits were released to search for the cached food. Females consistently performed better than males in this task. The results are remarkable for several reasons: (i) a sex difference in a cognitive ability of such a magnitude is unusual; (ii) most sex differences in spatial ability that have been reported so far concerns a male advantage; and perhaps most remarkably, (iii) female great tits were as successful in relocating the cached food as the hoarding marsh tits themselves. We hypothesize that female great tits are better at this than males because they are subordinate foragers. Males have prior access to food in nature and can easily displace females. Females will then benefit from a special ability to memorize caching positions that makes it possible for them to return and retrieve the food later when males are not around.},
  author       = {Brodin, Anders and Urhan, Utku},
  issn         = {1432-0762},
  keyword      = {Cognitive sex difference,Spatial memory,Great tit,Observational,learning},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {2},
  pages        = {237--241},
  publisher    = {Springer},
  series       = {Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology},
  title        = {Sex differences in learning ability in a common songbird, the great tit-females are better observational learners than males},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1836-2},
  volume       = {69},
  year         = {2015},
}