Temperament, Social Rank and Cognition: the Nature and Nurture of Social Cognitive Ecology
Scientists have long been interested in how nature and nurture interact to influence the way a person or animal acts and thinks. An individual's temperament, the characteristic way that he or she reacts physiologically (e.g., hormonally) and behaviourally to situations, is thought to be largely genetic. In studies of birds, rodents and primates, temperament has been shown to affect both the way an individual acquires, stores, and uses information in the environment (i.e., cognition), as well as social ranks within a group. For example, mountain chickadees that are described as "slow, or low explorers of a new environment, are dominant in their social group and show superior spatial memory ability compared to "fast," high-exploring subordinates. The early experiences of young organisms, such as low maternal care, also dramatically influence subsequent cognition and behaviour, by directly causing neurobiological changes in the brain and hormonal stress response system, known as the HPA axis. These changes are considered epigenetic. We study how temperament and early experience interact to influence social hierarchies in three species: the Yucatan miniature pig (Sus scrofa), the domestic dog (Canis familiaris), and the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). We also examine how temperament, early experience, and social rank influence the cognitive performance of animals on spatial and non-spatial memory tests. This research will further inform us about the interesting areas of animal personality, social dominance, and the relative roles of nature and nurture on how individuals behave in their world.
01 Jan 2010
31 Dec 2014
Strategic Research Theme