Section: Ecology
Topic: Ecology, Population biology, Neuroscience

Do the more flexible individuals rely more on causal cognition? Observation versus intervention in causal inference in great-tailed grackles

10.24072/pcjournal.44 - Peer Community Journal, Volume 1 (2021), article no. e50.

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Behavioral flexibility, the ability to change behavior when circumstances change based on learning from previous experience, is thought to play an important role in a species ability to successfully adapt to new environments and expand its geographic range. It is alternatively or additionally possible that causal cognition, the ability to understand relationships beyond their statistical covariations, could play a significant role in rapid range expansions via the ability to learn faster: causal cognition could lead to making better predictions about outcomes through exerting more control over events. We aim to determine whether great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus), a species that is rapidly expanding its geographic range, use causal inference and whether this ability relates to their behavioral flexibility (flexibility measured in these individuals by Logan et al. (2019): reversal learning of a color discrimination and solution switching on a puzzle box). Causal cognition was measured using a touchscreen where individuals learned about the relationships between a star, a tone, a clicking noise, and food. They were then tested on their expectations about which of these causes the food to become available. We found that eight grackles showed no evidence of making causal inferences when given the opportunity to intervene on observed events using a touchscreen apparatus, and that performance on the causal cognition task did not correlate with behavioral flexibility measures. This could indicate that our test was inadequate to assess causal cognition. Because of this, we are unable to speculate about the potential role of causal cognition in a species that is rapidly expanding its geographic range. We suggest further exploration of this hypothesis using larger sample sizes and multiple test paradigms.

Published online:
DOI: 10.24072/pcjournal.44
Type: Research article

Blaisdell, Aaron 1; Seitz, Benjamin 1; Rowney, Carolyn 2; Folsom, Melissa 2; MacPherson, Maggie 3; Deffner, Dominik 2; Logan, Corina J 2

1 University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
2 Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
3 University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, USA
License: CC-BY 4.0
Copyrights: The authors retain unrestricted copyrights and publishing rights
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     title = {Do the more flexible individuals rely more on causal cognition? {Observation} versus intervention in causal inference in great-tailed grackles},
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Blaisdell, Aaron; Seitz, Benjamin; Rowney, Carolyn; Folsom, Melissa; MacPherson, Maggie; Deffner, Dominik; Logan, Corina J. Do the more flexible individuals rely more on causal cognition? Observation versus intervention in causal inference in great-tailed grackles. Peer Community Journal, Volume 1 (2021), article  no. e50. doi : 10.24072/pcjournal.44.

PCI peer reviews and recommendation, and links to data, scripts, code and supplementary information: 10.24072/pci.ecology.100076

Conflict of interest of the recommender and peer reviewers:
The recommender in charge of the evaluation of the article and the reviewers declared that they have no conflict of interest (as defined in the code of conduct of PCI) with the authors or with the content of the article.

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