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Animal cognition and animal personality: Individual differences in exploratory behaviour, learning, vocal output, and hormonal response in an avian model Open Access


Other title
Songbird vocalization
Operant conditioning
Individual differences
Comparative cognition
Exploratory behaviour
Animal learning
Animal personality
Black-capped chickadee
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Guillette, Lauren M
Supervisor and department
Sturdy, Christopher (Psychology - University of Alberta)
Examining committee member and department
Hurd, Pete (Psychology - University of Alberta)
Spetch, Marcia (Psychology - University of Alberta)
Treit, Dallas (Psychology - University of Alberta)
Coltman, David (Biological Sciences - University of Alberta)
Blumstein, Daniel (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology - University of California Los Angeles)
Department of Psychology
Comparative Cognition and Behaviour
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The foremost goal of this thesis is to integrate the study of animal cognition with the field of animal personality. In the early 20th century, Pavlov integrated these fields by describing an interaction between associative learning and dogs that exhibited different behavioural types. Since Pavlov, little work has been conducted to examine how differences in cognition may affect the development of personality, the converse, or the interaction between the two. In Chapters 2 and 3 I use wild-caught black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) to examine if individual differences in learning speed are related to exploratory behaviour. Results from Chapter 2 show that fast-exploring chickadees solve an acoustic operant discrimination task in fewer trials compared to slow-exploring chickadees. In Chapter 3, the acoustic operant discrimination task included a reversal phase. Once each bird had learned to perform the correct response to two different stimulus categories, the reward contingencies associated with each category were reversed. Here I found that the slow-exploring chickadees outperformed the fast-exploring chickadees suggesting that variation in cognition and behavior may be maintained through habitat-dependent selection. That is, slow and fast exploring chickadees may excel in different environments. In Chapter 4, I used black-capped chickadees to examine if vocal production was related to exploratory behaviour. I found that vocal production was consistent over time in a control context and in a stressful context, but vocal production was not consistent across contexts. Furthermore, vocal production of the namesake chick-a-dee call and alarm call in the stressful context were positively related to exploratory behaviour. In Chapter 5, I used domestic pigeons (Columba livia) to examine the relationship between accuracy of discrimination and exploration. I found, contrary to the predicted direction, that fast-exploring pigeons were better discriminators compared to slow-exploring pigeons. Taken together, the experiments that comprise this thesis suggest that different cognitive styles do co-vary with different behavioural styles (i.e., animal personalities). Ongoing and future research directions for studying individual differences in cognition are discussed
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Guillette, L.M., Reddon, A.R., Hurd, P.L. & Sturdy, C.B. 2009. Exploration of a novel space is associated with individual differences in learning speed in black-capped chickadees, Poecile atricapillus. Behav Process. 82, 265–270.Guillette, L.M., Reddon A.R., Hoeschele, M. & Sturdy, C.B. 2011. Sometimes slower is better: slow-exploring birds are more sensitive to change in a vocal discrimination task. Proc R Soc B. 278, 767–773.Guillette, L.M. & Sturdy, C.B. 2011. Individual differences and repeatability in vocal production: stress induced calling exposes a songbirds personality. Naturwissenschaften. 98, 977-981.

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