Learning about construction behaviour from observing an artefact: can experience with conspecifics aid in artefact recognition?

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • Observation of or interaction with the enduring products of behaviour, called ‘social artefacts’ (e.g. an abandoned nest) are a potential source of social information. To learn from an artefact, that artefact needs to be recognized as the product of a behaviour that can provide relevant information (i.e. the artefact should be recognized as a nest). We used zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) to experimentally test whether observing a conspecific using a nest facilitates recognition of a future artefact as a source of social information. We manipulated the opportunity to form an association between a conspecific and their nest: half the subjects observed a pair of birds incubating eggs in a nest, the control subjects did not get this opportunity. Then, subjects observed an artefact made of their non-preferred colour and finally were allowed to build a nest. We predicted that the subjects given the opportunity to associate a nest with conspecifics would copy the colour of the artefact (i.e. use social information). We found that subjects who had the opportunity to learn what a nest is used social information obtained from the artefact by increasing their use of the artefact-material colour after artefact observation, while control birds did not. These data suggest that forming an association between conspecifics and their nest facilitates recognition of an artefact as a nest affecting how first-time builders use social information. This finding is important because it demonstrates that social learning is not limited to observing behaviour, but rather inferring behaviour from an artefact.

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  • Type of Item
    Article (Published)
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  • License
    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
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  • Source
    Animal Cognition,