Advanced

Self-control in a small passerine, the great tit, Parus major

Isaksson, Emil (2018) BION01 20162
Degree Projects in Biology
Abstract
Self-control can be explained as the power to resist what is usually hard to resist, which is essentially what individuals do when they deny themselves to satisfy impulses. This ability is suggested to be a necessity for more cognitively advanced behaviours in animals. A recent study compared 36 species across several taxa in their ability to elicit self-control and found that primates performed best. A follow up study, which added three corvids to the list of animals tested for self-control found that these three corvids performed at equal levels to the primates. Both of these studies employed the cylinder task, which is a common method to test self-control. In the cylinder task, animals are first trained to retrieve a food reward inside... (More)
Self-control can be explained as the power to resist what is usually hard to resist, which is essentially what individuals do when they deny themselves to satisfy impulses. This ability is suggested to be a necessity for more cognitively advanced behaviours in animals. A recent study compared 36 species across several taxa in their ability to elicit self-control and found that primates performed best. A follow up study, which added three corvids to the list of animals tested for self-control found that these three corvids performed at equal levels to the primates. Both of these studies employed the cylinder task, which is a common method to test self-control. In the cylinder task, animals are first trained to retrieve a food reward inside an opaque cylinder. The opaque cylinder is then replaced by a transparent cylinder. When the animals are presented with the transparent cylinder they must restrain themselves from going straight for the food item through the transparent wall of the cylinder and instead go to one of the openings. In my study, I have tested the innovative great tit, Parus major, in the cylinder task to see how it scores compared to the other species. This kind of comparison is important as it can give insight into the development of cognitively advanced behaviours in birds. I also investigated if there was an effect of sex or previous experience with transparency on the great tits’ ability of self-control. An additional test was made to see if the observed behaviour of the great tits conformed with a behavioural pattern expected from simple reinforced conditioning. Recent research has suggested that the seemingly most complex behaviours in animals can be accredited to serial conditioning of minor events. The results of my study suggest a self-control score of 64 % in the cylinder task. This score is higher than other birds of similar size to the great tits and par with some scoring corvids. Furthermore, male great tits seem to learn self-control faster than females, which contradicts the current suggestion that females possess higher problem-solving capability than males. In this study, I found no indications that the observed behaviour is the product of serial conditioning. (Less)
Popular Abstract
elf-control in the Great tit, Parus major

Self-control is a basal cognitive process that facilitates more complex behaviours in animals. Cognition treats how animals collect, process and act upon information from the environment and can be interpreted as the level of intelligence of an animal. In comparative cognition, the cognitive abilities of many animal species are compared with the aim to see how these abilities has evolved. Due to its use in a wide range of behaviours, self-control is a good trait that can be used to compare the cognitive ability of many species. One large-scale study tested the self-control ability of 36 different species and found that apes performed the best and that absolute brains size best predicted... (More)
elf-control in the Great tit, Parus major

Self-control is a basal cognitive process that facilitates more complex behaviours in animals. Cognition treats how animals collect, process and act upon information from the environment and can be interpreted as the level of intelligence of an animal. In comparative cognition, the cognitive abilities of many animal species are compared with the aim to see how these abilities has evolved. Due to its use in a wide range of behaviours, self-control is a good trait that can be used to compare the cognitive ability of many species. One large-scale study tested the self-control ability of 36 different species and found that apes performed the best and that absolute brains size best predicted performance. This claim was challenged in a follow-up study which showed that corvids, such as the raven, performed just as well and that the relative brain size also was a good predictor of performance. In this project I tested the self-control ability of the great tit. Results from a small but innovative bird, like the great tit, could provide another piece of the solution to the puzzle regarding the development of cognitive abilities in animals. I also tested whether self-control in the great tit could depend on stereotypical conditioning rather than cognitive understanding. I added the last test because during the course of my study a model was published that claimed that seemingly cognitively complex behaviour could be explained by conditioning and I wanted to see if this was also true for self-control in the great tits.

The great tit is a small, common garden bird in Europe which has multiple times showed that it does possess rather complex cognitive abilities. For example, the great tit performs very well in a large number of problem-solving tasks, like pulling string or levers to get food.

In my project I used the, so called, cylinder task to test the self-control of great tits. In the cylinder task animals are first trained to retrieve a food item from inside a non-transparent cylinder with open ends. This cylinder is later replaced by a transparent one. When faced with the transparent cylinder the animal has two options. First, it can follow its impulse and try to take the food through the transparent wall of the cylinder. The second option is to show self-control and follow the circumventing route to the opening of the cylinder. In my study I tested the general self-control ability of the great tits. Additionally, I tested the effect of previous experience with transparency as a concept by allowing roughly half of the great tits to interact with a transparent wall for a few days prior to the experiment. I also investigated if there was a difference in performance between the sexes. To test for conditioning, I presented the 14 birds that remained in the lab with food positioned at the spot where the cylinder previously had been positioned, ten days after the original experiment. If the birds then would have acted stereotypically and followed the circumvented route also when the cylinder was absent, it would suggest that the great tits had become conditioned to the task.

When compared to the previously tested species, the great tit performed well above predicted levels. In my project I could also show that males performed better than females. Furthermore, I found that previous experience with transparency in general does not affect the performance of the great tits, which I interpret as that they do not understand the concept of transparency per se. Finally, the great tits successful behaviour over multiple trials does not seem to rely on reinforcement of certain behavioural patterns becoming fixed as a result of getting a reward at the end of the behavioural chain. The results from this study, and others like it, may prove important in the efforts to understand how animal intelligence have developed.

Supervisor: Anders Brodin
Master´s Degree Project 45 hp in Animal Ecology 2017
Department of Biology, Lund University (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
Isaksson, Emil
supervisor
organization
course
BION01 20162
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
language
English
id
8934466
date added to LUP
2018-01-30 14:37:57
date last changed
2018-01-30 14:37:57
@misc{8934466,
  abstract     = {Self-control can be explained as the power to resist what is usually hard to resist, which is essentially what individuals do when they deny themselves to satisfy impulses. This ability is suggested to be a necessity for more cognitively advanced behaviours in animals. A recent study compared 36 species across several taxa in their ability to elicit self-control and found that primates performed best. A follow up study, which added three corvids to the list of animals tested for self-control found that these three corvids performed at equal levels to the primates. Both of these studies employed the cylinder task, which is a common method to test self-control. In the cylinder task, animals are first trained to retrieve a food reward inside an opaque cylinder. The opaque cylinder is then replaced by a transparent cylinder. When the animals are presented with the transparent cylinder they must restrain themselves from going straight for the food item through the transparent wall of the cylinder and instead go to one of the openings. In my study, I have tested the innovative great tit, Parus major, in the cylinder task to see how it scores compared to the other species. This kind of comparison is important as it can give insight into the development of cognitively advanced behaviours in birds. I also investigated if there was an effect of sex or previous experience with transparency on the great tits’ ability of self-control. An additional test was made to see if the observed behaviour of the great tits conformed with a behavioural pattern expected from simple reinforced conditioning. Recent research has suggested that the seemingly most complex behaviours in animals can be accredited to serial conditioning of minor events. The results of my study suggest a self-control score of 64 % in the cylinder task. This score is higher than other birds of similar size to the great tits and par with some scoring corvids. Furthermore, male great tits seem to learn self-control faster than females, which contradicts the current suggestion that females possess higher problem-solving capability than males. In this study, I found no indications that the observed behaviour is the product of serial conditioning.},
  author       = {Isaksson, Emil},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Self-control in a small passerine, the great tit, Parus major},
  year         = {2018},
}