Overview: Zebra finches have stable personality traits, and some traits allowed the birds to come up with innovative solutions to complex foraging tasks, a new study reports.
Source: University of Wyoming
Personality is not unique to humans. New research published in the Royal Society Open Science magazine shows that zebra finches have personalities, and some traits are consistent over two years of the birds’ lives.
Zebra finches not only showed a stable personality, but innovated solutions to new foraging tasks, with success sometimes being linked to personality type.
The article was written by Lisa Barrett and Jessica Marsh, of the University of Wyoming; Neeltje Boogert, of the University of Exeter; Christopher Templeton, of Pacific University Oregon; and Sarah Benson-Amram, of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UW and the leader of UW’s Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab.
The authors of the paper tested 41 zebra finches at UW from 2016-18 to measure individual differences in bird behavior over time.
The authors measured a variety of traits – dominance, daring, activity, risk-taking, aggressiveness and stubbornness – in the short term (two weeks) and the long term (two years), using standardized personality tests that were available in the literature. established .
For example, to assess daring, the authors placed a new object in an enclosure with a bird eating and measured how long it took the bird to start eating again in the presence of the new object.
To assess dominance, the authors recorded interactions of groups of birds at a single feeder. The authors measured stubbornness — or docility — while handling the birds by counting the number of escape attempts the birds made under a net.
“We were interested to see whether personality would remain stable or whether individuals would be flexible in their behavior over time,” said Barrett, the lead author.
“By repeating our tests over two years with the exact same birds, we were able to answer that question.”
Barrett and colleagues found that not all properties were equally consistent. Of the traits they measured, many traits were consistent over two weeks, but only boldness and stubbornness were consistent over two years.
Next, the researchers tested whether personality was related to problem-solving success on three new tasks previously used with zebra finches.
“Because individuals differ in their personality type and in their cognitive abilities, we wanted to see if these two sources of variation were related,” said Marsh, who was a college student when she worked on the study.
The authors found that problem-solving success was linked to daring, dominance, and stubbornness. For example, less dominant birds were more likely to solve two of the tasks compared to their more dominant counterparts.
This result provides support for the “necessity drives innovation” hypothesis, which states that less dominant individuals — who receive fewer resources because of competition from their herd mates — may need to innovate new ways to access food.
“In this work, we used a comprehensive set of personality tests and multiple cognitive tasks, and conducted our work over a longer period of time than traditional tests,” says Benson-Amram.
“This allowed us to discover the importance of measuring multiple traits to understand the link between personality and problem solving.”
Because not all traits were consistent over time or related to problem-solving performance, the authors emphasize that future research should focus on uncovering which personality measures are most important for innovation — and why some traits are more plastic than others.
About this personality and problem-solving research news
Author: Chad Baldwin
Source: University of Wyoming
Contact: Chad Baldwin – University of Wyoming
Image: The image is attributed to Lisa Barrett
Original research: Open access.
†Links between personality traits and problem solving in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)” by Lisa Barrett et al. Royal Society Open Science
Links between personality traits and problem solving in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)
Consistent individual differences in behavior over time or context (i.e., personality types) have been found across many species and have implications for fitness. Likewise, individual variation in cognitive abilities has been shown to influence fitness. Cognition and personality are complex, multidimensional traits.
However, previous work has generally examined the association between a single personality trait and a single cognitive ability, yielding questionable results.
Links between personality and cognitive ability suggest that behavioral traits evolved simultaneously, highlighting their nuanced connections. Here we examined individuals’ performance on multiple personality tests and repeated problem-solving tests (each measuring innovative performance).
We assessed behavioral traits (dominance, daring, activity, risk-taking, aggressiveness, and stubbornness) in 41 captive zebra finches. Birds’ scores for daring and stubbornness were consistent over two years. We also examined whether personality correlated with problem-solving ability on repeated tests.
Our results indicate that neophobia, dominance and stubbornness were related to successful solving, and less dominant, more stubborn birds solved the tasks faster on average.
Our results indicate the importance of investigating multiple measures over a long period of time.
Future work identifying links between personality and innovation in non-model organisms may elucidate the coevolution of these two forms of individual differences.
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