A problem with problem solving: motivational traits, but not cognition, predict success on novel operant foraging tasks
Van Horik, JO
This is the final version of the article. Available from Elsevier via the DOI in this record.
Rates of innovative foraging behaviours and success on problem-solving tasks are often used to assay differences in cognition, both within and across species. Yet the cognitive features of some problemsolving tasks can be unclear. As such, explanations that attribute cognitive mechanisms to individual variation in problem-solving performance have revealed conflicting results. We investigated individual consistency in problem-solving performances in captive-reared pheasant chicks, Phasianus colchicus, and addressed whether success depends on cognitive processes, such as trial-and-error associative learning, or whether performances may be driven solely via noncognitive motivational mechanisms, revealed through subjects' willingness to approach, engage with and persist in their interactions with an apparatus, or via physiological traits such as body condition. While subjects' participation and success were consistent within the same problems and across similar tasks, their performances were inconsistent across different types of task. Moreover, subjects' latencies to approach each test apparatus and their attempts to access the reward were not repeatable across trials. Successful individuals did not improve their performances with experience, nor were they consistent in their techniques in repeated presentations of a task. However, individuals that were highly motivated to enter the experimental chamber were more likely to participate. Successful individuals were also faster to approach each test apparatus and more persistent in their attempts to solve the tasks than unsuccessful individuals. Our findings therefore suggest that individual differences in problem-solving success can arise from inherent motivational differences alone and hence be achieved without inferring more complex cognitive processes
We thank Rothamsted Research North Wyke for accommodating the rearing and release of the pheasants. We thank Aidan Hulatt, Sebastian Bekker and James Foley for their help with data collection and animal husbandry. Lauren Brent and Rob Heathcote provided advice on analysis. J.R.M. and J.O.v.H. were funded by an ERC consolidator grant (616474).
Animal Behaviour, 2016, Volume 114, pp.189-198