Inhibitory control performance is repeatable over time and across contexts in a wild bird population

Davidson, Gabrielle L. ORCID:, Reichert, Michael S., Coomes, Jenny R., Kulahci, Ipek G., de la Hera, Iván and Quinn, John L. (2022) Inhibitory control performance is repeatable over time and across contexts in a wild bird population. Animal Behaviour, 187. pp. 305-318. ISSN 0003-3472

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Inhibitory control is one of several cognitive mechanisms required for self-regulation, decision making and attention towards tasks. Inhibitory control is expected to influence behavioural plasticity in animals, for example in the context of foraging, social interaction or responses to sudden changes in the environment. One widely used inhibitory control assay is the ‘detour task’ where subjects must avoid impulsively touching transparent barriers positioned in front of food, and instead access the food by an alternative but known route. However, because the detour task has been reported to measure factors unrelated to inhibitory control, including motivation, previous experience and persistence, the task may be unreliable for making cross-species comparisons, estimating individual differences and linking performance with socioecological traits. To address these concerns, we designed a variant of the detour task for wild great tits, Parus major, and deployed it at the nesting site across two spring seasons. We compared task performance of the same individuals in the wild across 2 years, and with their performance in captivity when tested using the classical cylinder detour task during the nonbreeding season. Potential confounds of motivation, previous experience, body size, sex, age and personality did not significantly predict performance, and temporal and contextual repeatability were low but significant. These results support the hypothesis that our assays captured intrinsic differences in inhibitory control. Instead of dismissing detour tasks and ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’, we suggest confounds are likely system and experimental-design specific, and that assays for this potentially fundamental but largely overlooked source of behavioural plasticity in animal populations, should be validated and refined for each study system.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Funding Information: We thank Sam Bayley, Jodie Crane and James O'Neill for assistance with fieldwork, and Amy Cooke for assistance in the aviary. Thank you to Karen Cogan, Allen Whitaker and Luke Harman for technical support. Funding came from the European Research Council under the European Union's Horizon 2020 Programme ( FP7/2007–2013 )/ERC Consolidator Grant ‘EVOLECOCOG’ Project No. 617509, awarded to J.L.Q., and from a Science Foundation Ireland ERC Support Grant 14/ERC/B3118 to J.L.Q. At the time of writing, G.L.D. was funded by the Sir Isaac Newton Trust and the Leverhulme Trust ( ECR-2018-700 ). Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Author(s)
Uncontrolled Keywords: cognition,detour task,great tit,inhibitory control,repeatability,wild,ecology, evolution, behavior and systematics,animal science and zoology ,/dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/1100/1105
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Biological Sciences
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Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2023 10:31
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2023 10:31
DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2022.02.007

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