Predictors of individual variation in reversal learning performance in three-spined sticklebacks

Miles K. Bensky, Alison M. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Behavioral flexibility is a type of phenotypic plasticity that can influence how animals cope with environmental change and is often measured with a reversal learning paradigm. The goal of this study was to understand why individuals differ in behavioral flexibility, and whether individual differences in behavioral flexibility fit the predictions of coping styles theory. We tested whether individual variation in flexibility correlates with response to novelty (response to a novel object), boldness (emergence into a novel environment), and behavioral persistence (response to a barrier), and tested for trade-offs between how quickly individuals learn an initial discrimination and flexibility. We compare results when reversal learning performance is measured during an early step of reversal learning (e.g. the number of errors during the first reversal session) to when reversal learning performance is measured by time to criterion. Individuals that made fewer mistakes during an early step of reversal learning spent more time away from the novel object, were less bold, less persistent, and performed worse during initial discrimination learning. In contrast, time to criterion was not correlated with any of the behaviors measured. This result highlights the utility of dissecting the steps of reversal learning to better understand variation in behavioral flexibility. Altogether, this study suggests that individuals differ in flexibility because flexibility is a key ingredient to their overall integrated strategy for coping with environmental challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAnimal cognition
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2020

Keywords

  • Animal cognition
  • Animal personality
  • Flexibility
  • Individual differences
  • Persistence
  • Reversal learning
  • Three-spined stickleback

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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