Learning performance is associated with social preferences in a group-living fish
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Many animals live in groups yet grouping tendencies and preferences for groups of different sizes vary considerably between individuals. This variation reflects, at least in part, differences in how individuals evaluate and perceive their physical surroundings and their social environment. While such differences are likely related to individual variation in cognition, there have been few studies that have directly investigated how cognitive abilities are linked to individual grouping decisions. Therefore, in this study we assessed whether performance on a foraging-based reversal learning task is related to grouping preferences (a group of three fish versus a single fish) in a group-living cichlid fish, Neolamprologus pulcher. While most fish preferred to associate with the group over a single fish, individuals that completed the reversal learning task the quickest were the least interested in the group under elevated predation risk. In addition, fish that quickly completed the reversal learning task also adjusted their grouping preferences the most when predation risk increased. This result suggests that the observed relationship between learning performance and grouping decisions may be linked to individual differences in behavioural flexibility. Overall, our results offer valuable insight into the potential factors that underlie inter-individual variation in grouping decisions.
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