A Problem With Problem Solving (#327)
Rates of innovative foraging behaviours and success on problem solving tasks are often used to assay differences in cognition both across and within species. Yet the cognitive features of some problem solving tasks can be unclear. As such, explanations that attribute cognitive mechanisms to individual variation in problem solving performances have revealed conflicting results. We investigate individual consistency in problem solving performances in captive-reared pheasant chicks (Phasianus colchicus) to address whether success depends on cognitive processes, such as trial-and-error learning, or whether performances may be driven solely via non-cognitive motivational mechanisms, such as interaction persistence, or other physiological traits, such as body condition. While individuals were consistent in their problem solving performances, successful individuals did not improve their performances with experience, nor were they consistent in their techniques used to solve the tasks. Successful individuals showed consistent performances within the same problems and across similar problems, yet their performances were inconsistent across different types of problems. Overall, successful individuals were generally more motivated to enter the experimental chamber, faster to approach each test apparatus and more persistent in their attempts to solve the problems than unsuccessful individuals. Our findings suggest that consistent individual differences in problem solving performances can arise from motivational differences alone and hence may be achieved without inferring more complex cognitive processes.