Fish are closer to humans’ way of thinking than previously believed

June 17th, 2009 - 1:30 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 17 (ANI): A new research study has suggested that the way fish learn could be closer to humans’ way of thinking than previously believed.

The subject of the research was a common species of fish which is found across Europe including the UK, called the nine-spined stickleback, which 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.

The scientists said that 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.

For the research, around 270 fish were caught using dip nets from Melton Brook in Leicester, and housed in aquariums in a laboratory.

The fish were split into three experimental groups and one control group.

The fish in the experimental groups were given two different learning experiences and two preference tests in a tank with a feeder at each end.

First, they were free to explore the feeder at each end during a number of training trials, where one feeder supplied more worms than the other, called the rich feeder.

They were then tested to see which feeder they preferred.

In the second training trial, those fish that had learned a preference for the rich feeder observed other fish feeding, but this time, the rich and poor feeders were swapped round with the rich feeder, either giving even more worms than the one the fish previously got their food from or giving roughly the same or less.

In the second test, the fish were again free to swim around and choose their feeder.

Around 75 per cent of fish were ‘clever’ enough to know from watching the other fish that the rich feeder, previously experienced first hand themselves as the poor feeder, gave them the better pay off.

The team of researchers suggests that the nine-spined stickleback may have been ‘forced’ to learn from others about where to feed while hiding from predators.

According to co-author Professor Kevin Laland from the School of Biology at St Andrews University, “Nine-spined sticklebacks may be the geniuses of the fish world. It’s remarkable that a form of learning found to be optimal in humans is exactly what these fish do.” (ANI)

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