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Exploring individual variation in associative learning abilities through an operant conditioning task in wild baboons

Martina, C; Cowlishaw, G; Carter, AJ; (2020) Exploring individual variation in associative learning abilities through an operant conditioning task in wild baboons. PLoS One , 15 (4) , Article e0230810. 10.1371/journal.pone.0230810. Green open access

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Abstract

Cognitive abilities underpin many of the behavioural decisions of animals. However, we still have very little understanding of how and why cognitive abilities vary between individuals of the same species in wild populations. In this study, we assessed the associative learning abilities of wild chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) across two troops in Namibia with a simple operant conditioning task. We evaluated the ability of individuals to correctly associate a particular colour of corn kernels with a distasteful flavour through repeated presentations of two small piles of corn dyed different colours, one of which had been treated with a non-toxic bitter substance. We also assessed whether individual variation in learning ability was associated with particular phenotypic traits (sex, social rank and neophilia) and states (age and prior vigilance). We found no evidence of learning the association either within each trial or across trials, nor any variation based on individuals’ phenotypes. This appeared to be due to a high tolerance for bitter foods leading to similar acceptance of both palatable and unpalatable kernels. Earlier avoidance of the bitter kernels during pilot trials suggests this higher tolerance may have been largely driven by a drought during the experiments. Overall, our findings highlight the potential influence of current environmental challenges associated with conducting cognitive tests of animals in the wild.

Type: Article
Title: Exploring individual variation in associative learning abilities through an operant conditioning task in wild baboons
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230810
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0230810
Language: English
Additional information: © 2020 Martina et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Div of Biosciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10094895
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