Researchers from Messerli Research Institute, the University of Lincoln and the University of Vienna are researching how and why birds respond to new influences and their eagerness to explore.
It has been assumed that neophobic species, or those that do not like new things, have a tendency to explore less than those that do, referred to as neophilic. Researchers used touchscreens to examine how parrots and crows respond when investigating new objects.
The research reveals that an individual bird's comfort level with novel objects has an impact on when they choose to explore new objects, but not on their level of exploration. Birds that are more neophobic carry out the same amount of exploration but make the approach much later.
Researchers found that individual differences and characteristics seem to be much more important than species-level differences in determining how eager a bird is to explore.
How They Tested It
Researchers introduced parrots and crows to a touchscreen that revealed two different colored shapes on a regular basis. They were trained to understand that choosing one of the shapes by pecking it could result in a food reward. The team showed each bird 16 pairs of shapes and throughout the task introduced a few novel stimuli.
They then measured how quickly the birds responded to the new shapes and at which point in the test they chose to investigate them.
"Rather than its species, we found that individual differences have a significant impact upon how quickly a bird begins to explore,” says Anna Wilkinson, a specialist in animal cognition from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln. “This is likely to be due to a combination of the bird's age, its individual position in the social hierarchy, and its own previous experiences."
Nine different species of parrots and corvids were studied representing different ecological backgrounds such as the likelihood of pressure from predators.
"Our findings allow for a more accurate interpretation of behavior and the processes which control responses to changes in the environment,” says Mark O’Hara, researcher from Messerli Research Institute.
The full research can be found in the journal Scientific Reports.