Although worlds apart, the way fish learn could be closer to humans’ way of thinking than previously believed, suggests a new research study.
A common species of fish which is found across Europe including the UK, called the nine-spined stickleback, could be the first animal shown to exhibit an important human social learning strategy. The sticklebacks can compare the behaviour of other sticklebacks with their own experience and make choices that lead to better food supplies, according to the study by St Andrews and Durham universities.
The researchers suggest these fish might have an unusually sophisticated social learning capability not yet found in other animals, called a ‘hill-climbing’ strategy.
This ability of picking the best quality food patch by comparing how successful others are at getting food from it against their personal experience has not been shown before in animals, say the scientists.
The team of researchers suggests that in the case of the nine-spined stickleback it is likely to be a case of ‘needs must’ as the anatomy of this particular species of fish does not offer significant protection from predators to forage alone safely. …
The scientists say the findings, published in the academic journal Behavioral Ecology, show that the cognitive mechanisms underlying cumulative cultural evolution may be more prevalent in nonhuman animals than currently believed. The findings show that big brains, like those in humans, are not necessarily needed as a pre-requisite for cumulative culture.