Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 165–178 | Cite as

Individual differences in learning speed, performance accuracy and exploratory behaviour in black-capped chickadees

  • Lauren M. GuilletteEmail author
  • Allison H. Hahn
  • Marisa Hoeschele
  • Ann-Marie Przyslupski
  • Christopher B. Sturdy
Original Paper


Cognitive processes are important to animals because they not only influence how animals acquire, store and recall information, but also may underpin behaviours such as deciding where to look for food, build a nest, or with whom to mate. Several recent studies have begun to examine the potential interaction between variation in cognition and variation in personality traits. One hypothesis proposed that there is a speed–accuracy trade-off in cognition ability that aligns with a fast–slow behaviour type. Here, we explicitly examined this hypothesis by testing wild-caught black-capped chickadees in a series of cognitive tasks that assessed both learning speed (the number of trials taken to learn) and accuracy (post-acquisition performance when tested with un-trained exemplars). Chickadees’ exploration scores were measured in a novel environment task. We found that slow-exploring chickadees demonstrated higher accuracy during the test phase, but did not learn the initial task in fewer trials compared to fast-exploring chickadees, providing partial support for the proposed link between cognition and personality. We report positive correlations in learning speed between different phases within cognitive tasks, but not between the three cognitive tasks suggesting independence in underlying cognitive processing. We discuss different rule-based strategies that may contribute to differential performance accuracy in cognitive tasks and provide suggestions for future experimentation to examine mechanisms underlying the relationship between cognition and personality.


Animal personality Black-capped chickadee Cognition Exploratory behaviour Individual differences Learning 



This work was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant (RGPIN 249887) and Discovery Accelerator Supplement (RGPAS 412311), Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) New Opportunities Fund and Infrastructure Operating Fund grants, an Alberta Ingenuity New Faculty Grant, and CFI partner funding and start-up funding from the University of Alberta. LMG was supported by an Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship (IWKMS) at the University of Alberta and is currently a Newton International Fellow supported by the Royal Society and the British Academy. MH was supported by an NSERC PostGraduate Scholarship, an Alberta Ingenuity Graduate Student Scholarship and an IWKMS and is currently funded by a European Research Council advanced Grant [No. 230604 ‘SOMACCA’] awarded to W. Tecumseh Fitch at the University of Vienna. AHH is supported by the Department of Psychology at the University of Alberta. We thank our research assistant John Hoang for aid in running instrumental training, and our technical assistants, Lou Omerzu and Isaac Lank. Thanks to Sue Healy and Andrea Griffin for comments on the discussion and two anonymous reviews for comments on the manuscript.

Supplementary material

This video is a successful trial (pass) in the Colour association task. Yellow was the S+, and blue was the S- (MPG 8512 kb)

This video is an unsuccessful trial (fail) in the Colour association task. Red was the S+, and green was the S- (MPG 5976 kb)

This video is a successful trial (pass) in the Colour association task. Yellow was the S+, and blue was the S- (MPG 18054 kb)

This video is an unsuccessful trial (fail) with the transparent tube in the Detour-reaching task (MPG 1788 kb)

This video is a successful trial (pass) with the transparent tube in the Detour-reaching task (MPG 1070 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauren M. Guillette
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Allison H. Hahn
    • 1
  • Marisa Hoeschele
    • 1
    • 3
  • Ann-Marie Przyslupski
    • 1
    • 4
  • Christopher B. Sturdy
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.School of Biology, Harold Mitchel BuildingUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK
  3. 3.Department of Cognitive BiologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  4. 4.Department of PaediatricsUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  5. 5.Centre for NeuroscienceUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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