acta ethologica

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 57–64 | Cite as

Inter-modal learning task in bottlenosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus): a preliminary study showed that social factors might influence learning strategies

  • Fabienne DelfourEmail author
  • Ken Marten
Original Article


We studied the dolphin’s capacity to perform a cognitive task when information arrives through two different sensory modalities (visual and auditory). Three female bottlenosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were submitted to a two-, three-, or four-choice visually combined with auditory discrimination problem without any food reward. Since they were not isolated, we examined the significance of the role of identified social constraints on the learning process. The results tended to show an ability to associate simple visual forms and auditory information using an underwater touchscreen. This task was learnt in various ways according to identified social constraints. For each subject, we examined and discussed the number of successful answers, their ability to focus attention on the test and to acquire, or not, the specific task, while noting influences of the social interactions and the social hierarchy on the whole acquisition process.


Learning strategy Social influence Sensory perception Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 



We would like to thank Bruno Mégessier who created the programs we used. We also would like to thank Earthtrust, Sea Life Park Hawaii, and their dolphins. We also would like to thank P. Carlier who reviewed the previous version of the manuscript.


  1. Altmann J (1974) Observational study of behavior: sampling methods. Behavior 49:227–267Google Scholar
  2. Bond CF, Titus LJ (1983) Social facilitation: a meta analysis of 241 studies. Psychol Bull 94:265–292PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Boran JR, Heimlich SL (1999) Social learning in cetaceans: hunting, hearing and hierarchies. In: Box HO, Gibson KR (eds) Mammalian social learning. Comparative and ecological perspectives, Chap 16. University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Bovet D, Vauclair J (1998) Functional categorization of objects and their pictures in baboons (Papio anubis). Learn Motiv 29:309–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Caldwell MC, Caldwell DK (1972) Behavior of marine mammals. In: Ridgway SH (ed) Mammals of the sea: biology and medicine. Thomas, Springfield, IL, pp 419–465Google Scholar
  6. Call J, Tomasello M (1995) Use of social information in the problem solving of orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and human children (Homo sapiens). J Comp Psychol 109(3):308–320PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Chalmeau R, Gallo A (1993) Social constraints determine what is learned in the chimpanzee. Behav Processes 28:173–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Custance D, Whiten A, Fredman T (1999) Social learning of an artificial fruit task in capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). J Comp Psychol 113(1):13–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crook JH, Ellis JE, Goss-Custard JD (1976) Mammalian social systems: structure and function. Anim Behav 24:261–327Google Scholar
  10. Ford JKB (1991) Vocal traditions among resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) in coastal waters of British Columbia, Canada. Can J Zool 69:1454–1483Google Scholar
  11. Guinet C, Bouvier J (1995) Development of intentional stranding hunting techniques in killer whales (Orcinus orca) calves at Crozet Archipelago. Can J Zool 73:27–33Google Scholar
  12. Hain JHW, Carter GR, Kraus SD, Mayo CA, Winn HE (1982) Feeding behavior of the humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, in the Western North Atlantic. Fish Bull US 80:259–268Google Scholar
  13. Herman LM (1986) Cognition and language competencies of bottlenosed dolphins. In: Schusterman RJ, Thomas JA, Wood FG (eds) Dolphin cognition and behavior: a comparative approach. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, London, pp 221–252Google Scholar
  14. Herman LM, Pack AA, Wood AM (1994) Bottlenose dolphins can generalize rules and develop abstract concepts. Mar Mamm Sci 10(1):70–80Google Scholar
  15. Herzing DL (1996) Vocalizations and associated underwater behavior of free-ranging Atlantic spotted dolphins, Stenella frontalis and bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus. Aquat Mamm 22(2):61–79Google Scholar
  16. Johnson CM, Norris KS (1986) Delphinid social organization and social behavior. In: Schusterman RJ, Thomas JA, Wood FG (eds) Dolphin cognition and behavior: a comparative approach. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, London, pp 335–346Google Scholar
  17. Kastak DA, Schusterman RJ (1992) Comparative cognition in marine mammals: a clarification on match-to-sample tests. Mar Mamm Sci 8:414–417Google Scholar
  18. Lachland RF, Crooks L, Laland KN (1998) Who follows whom? Shoaling preferences and social learning of foraging information in guppies. Anim Behav 56:181–190PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Lea S (1984) In what sense do pigeons learn concepts? In: Roitblat HL, Bever TG, Terrace HS (eds) Animal cognition. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJGoogle Scholar
  20. Mercado E III, Deirde A, Killebrew A, Pack A, Màcha IVB, Herman LM (2000) Generalization of «same–different» classification abilities in bottlenosed dolphins. Behav Processes 50:79–84PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Nachtigall PE (1986) Vision, audition and chemoreception in dolphins and other marine mammals. In: Schusterman RJ, Thomas JA, Wood FG (eds) Dolphin cognition and behavior: a comparative approach. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, London, pp 79–113Google Scholar
  22. Pack AA, Herman LM (1995) Sensory integration in the bottlenosed dolphin: immediate recognition of complex shapes across the senses of echolocation and vision. J Acoust Soc Am 98(2):722–733PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Pepperberg IM (1987) Acquisition of same/different concept by an African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus): learning with respect to categories of color, shape, and material. Anim Learn Behav 15:423–432Google Scholar
  24. Pepperberg IM (1990) Cognition in an African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus): further evidence for comprehension of categories and labels. J Comp Psychol 104:41–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pryor KW, Lindbergh J, Lindbergh S, Milano R (1990) A dolphin–human fishing cooperative in Brazil. Mar Mamm Sci 6:77–82Google Scholar
  26. Ralston JV, Herman LM (1995) Perception and generalization of frequency contours by a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). J Comp Psychol 109(3):268–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Roberts WA, Mazmanian DS (1988) Concept learning at different levels of abstraction by pigeons, monkeys and people. J Exp Psychol, Anim Behav Processes 14:247–260Google Scholar
  28. Schrier AM, Brady PM (1987) Categorization of natural stimuli by monkeys (Macaca mulatta): effects of stimulus set size and modification of exemplars. J Exp Psychol, Anim Behav Processes 13:136–143Google Scholar
  29. Schusterman RJ, Gisiner R (1988) Artificial language comprehension in dolphins and sea lions: the essential cognitive skills. Psychol Rec 38:311–348Google Scholar
  30. Tayler CK, Saayman GS (1972) The social organization and behavior of dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) and baboons (Papio ursinus): some comparisons and assessments. Ann Cape Prov Mus Nat Hist 9:11–49Google Scholar
  31. Tyack P (1986) Population biology, social behavior and communication in whales and dolphins. Trends Ecol Evol 1:144–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Weinrich MT, Schilling MR, Belt CR (1992) Evidence for acquisition of a novel feeding behaviour: lobtail feeding in humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae. Anim Behav 44:1059–1072Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag and ISPA 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire de Biologie du ComportementUniversité Pierre-Mendès-FranceGrenoble cedex 9France
  2. 2.ParisFrance
  3. 3.EarthtrustKailuaUSA

Personalised recommendations