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Matthew G Salena, Angad Singh, Olivia Weller, Xiang X Fang, and Sigal Balshine (2021)

Rapid spatial learning in cooperative and non-cooperative cichlids

Behavioural Processes, 104550.

The number, duration and depth of social relationships that individuals maintain impact social cognition, but the connection between sociality and other aspects of cognition has hardly been explored. To date, the link between social living and intelligence has been mainly supported by studies on primates, and far fewer tests connecting sociality to cognitive abilities have used other taxa. Here, we present the first comparative study in fishes that examines whether complex social living is associated with better performance on a cognitively demanding spatial task. Using three cooperative, group-living cichlid fish species and three of their non-cooperative, more solitary close relatives, we studied maze learning and employed a new statistical extension for the lme4’ and glmmTMB’ packages in R that allows phylogeny to be included as a random effect term. Across trials, the three cooperative and the three non-cooperative species completed the maze faster, made fewer mistakes, and improved their inhibitory control. Although fish improved their performance, we did not detect any differences in the extent of improvement between cooperative and non-cooperative species. Both the cooperative species and the non-cooperative species took similar amounts of time to complete the maze, had comparable numbers of mistakes, and exhibited similar inhibitory control while in the maze. Our results suggest that living and breeding in complex social groups does not necessarily imply enhancement of other forms of cognition nor, more specifically, an enhanced spatial learning capacity.