Exclusion, what else? Testing for inference skills using an abstract touch-screen approach. — ASN Events

Exclusion, what else? Testing for inference skills using an abstract touch-screen approach. (#200)

Mark O'Hara 1 2 , Alice M.I. Auersperg 1 3 , Theresa Rössler 1 , Ira Federspiel 1 , Raoul Schwing 2 , Gyula K. Gajdon 2 , Thomas Bugnyar 1 , Ludwig Huber 2
  1. Department for Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  2. Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University Vienna & University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  3. Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Zoology, Oxford University, 
Oxford, UK

Inference by exclusion, the ability to base choices on the systematic exclusion of alternatives [1], has been investigated in a broad range of non-human species throughout the past decades [1-27]. However, the majority of methodologies that have been employed are difficult to be compared directly, as they rarely take into consideration behavioural predispositions (e.g. neophobia, explorative tendencies, etc.) differing between species. Furthermore, previous studies found individuals frequently rely on cognitively less demanding strategies rather than logically excluding alternatives [26, 27], but fail to integrate these findings into a framework that could account for the use of multiple strategies. Here, we present an approach that refrains from testing for one cognitive skill in the common ‘all or nothing’ fashion. Instead, this method allows for a more graded qualitative analysis of response behaviour by using an abstract two-choice task on a touch-screen, which is equally feasible for a large variety of species [2]. The task has so far been tested with two large brained parrot species, both of which are known to be very investigative and curious: Goffin cockatoos (Cacatua goffini) and kea (Nestor notabilis). While Goffin cockatoos have been shown to be able to make inferences in the functional domain [28], kea were tested and failed in a previous exclusion task [23]. These species were selected to test robustness of the approach with respect to neophilia [29-31], a feature rarely controlled for in previous studies. While individuals of both species exhibited responses indicative of inference by exclusion significantly above chance, other response strategies also seem to have guided their choices to some degree. The results of the current study highlight the importance of considering alternative response strategies, e.g. novelty aversion, stimulus avoidance or one-trial learning, and how these might overshadow more advanced cognitive abilities, such as reasoning by exclusion, leading to misconceptions about the evolutionary origins of such skills.

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