The Effect of Familiarity with Demonstrators on Social Learning in Three-Spined Sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

Rebecca M. Trapp, Alison M. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social learning is an important process in the spread of information, especially in changing environments where inherited behaviors may not remain relevant. In many species, the decision of whom to trust to have reliable information depends on the relationship between individuals. Many fish species, including three-spined sticklebacks, preferentially associate with familiar individuals. Previous studies in three-spined sticklebacks have provided mixed evidence about the effect of familiarity on social learning in this species. Therefore, this study further explores familiarity and social learning in sticklebacks, specifically from a demonstrator-focused perspective. We found that in a food patch discrimination task, individuals with unfamiliar demonstrators performed significantly better than those with familiar demonstrators. In a problem-solving task, we found that focal fish attended to the behavior of demonstrators, but we did not detect an effect of familiarity on performance, and indeed the proportion of individuals to solve the task after observing demonstrators was low. These results suggest that sticklebacks have a preference for unfamiliar demonstrators, but that the use of social information varies depending on context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-220
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • cognition
  • social behavior
  • social learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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