Consistent individual differences in associative learning speed are not linked to boldness in female Atlantic mollies


Recent studies on consistent individual differences in behavioural tendencies (animal personality) raised the question of whether individual differences in cognitive abilities can be linked to certain personality types. We tested female Atlantic mollies (Poecilia mexicana) in two different classical conditioning experiments. For the first time, we provide evidence for highly consistent individual differences in associative learning speed in fish. We characterized the same individuals for boldness in two experimental situations (latency to emerge from shelter and freezing time after a simulated predator attack) and found high behavioural repeatability. When we tested for a potential correlation between associative learning speed and boldness, however, there was no evidence for a link between them. Our study design included several steps to avoid typical pitfalls of disadvantaging shy individuals during learning tests. We caution that other experimental studies may have suffered from erroneous interpretations due to a more cautious coping style of shy individuals in the respective setup used to assess learning.

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We thank Holger Geupel and Eva Maria Wörner for help with animal care.

Author information

CST designed the study, collected data and conducted the statistical analyses. Both authors wrote the article.

Correspondence to Carolin Sommer-Trembo.

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All applicable national and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All experiments comply with current German law and were approved by Regierungspräsidium Darmstadt (V-54-19c-20/15-F104/Anz.18). Both authors declare that they have no conflict of interest and agree upon the content of the article.

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Carolin Sommer-Trembo declares that she has no conflict of interest. Martin Plath declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Sommer-Trembo, C., Plath, M. Consistent individual differences in associative learning speed are not linked to boldness in female Atlantic mollies. Anim Cogn 21, 661–670 (2018).

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  • Cognitive syndrome
  • Animal personality
  • Classical conditioning
  • Poeciliidae