Problem-solving and learning in Carib grackles: individuals show a consistent speed–accuracy trade-off


The generation and maintenance of within-population variation in cognitive abilities remain poorly understood. Recent theories propose that this variation might reflect the existence of consistent cognitive strategies distributed along a slow–fast continuum influenced by shyness. The slow–fast continuum might be reflected in the well-known speed–accuracy trade-off, where animals cannot simultaneously maximise the speed and the accuracy with which they perform a task. We test this idea on 49 wild-caught Carib grackles (Quiscalus lugubris), a tame opportunistic generalist Icterid bird in Barbados. Grackles that are fast at solving novel problems involving obstacle removal to reach visible food perform consistently over two different tasks, spend more time per trial attending to both tasks, and are those that show more shyness in a pretest. However, they are also the individuals that make more errors in a colour discrimination task requiring no new motor act. Our data reconcile some of the mixed positive and negative correlations reported in the comparative literature on cognitive tasks, suggesting that a speed–accuracy trade-off could lead to negative correlations between tasks favouring speed and tasks favouring accuracy, but still reveal consistent strategies based on stable individual differences.

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We thank C. Rowe for his help in building the aviaries at the Bellairs Research Institute. This work was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Fondation Fyssen to S.D., a FQRNT doctoral scholarship to J.N.A and a NSERC Discovery Grant to L.L.

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Correspondence to S. Ducatez.

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Ducatez, S., Audet, J.N. & Lefebvre, L. Problem-solving and learning in Carib grackles: individuals show a consistent speed–accuracy trade-off. Anim Cogn 18, 485–496 (2015) doi:10.1007/s10071-014-0817-1

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  • Cognition
  • Problem-solving
  • Innovation
  • Discrimination learning
  • Speed–accuracy trade-off
  • Cognitive styles