Scientists claim fish 'learn like humans'
The nine-spined stickleback
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Scientists have claimed the way fish learn could be closer to humans than previously thought.
According to a study by St Andrews and Durham universities the nine-spined stickleback can compare the behaviour of other sticklebacks with their own experience and make a series of choices which can potentially lead to better food supplies.
The discovery could be the first in showing an animal exhibiting an important human social learning strategy, the report, published in the journal Behavioural Ecology, claims.
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The authors of study suggest the fish may even have an unusually sophisticated social learning capability not yet found in other animals, called a 'hill-climbing' strategy.
The ability of the sticklebacks to pick the best quality food patch by comparing how successful others are at getting food compared to their own personal experience certainly has not been shown before, they write.
It's thought the fish may have been forced into developing the ability to learn about where to feed due to their lack of protection from predators. The scientists claim it may be the case they needed to find where best to feed while hiding.
They also claim their findings 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," they write.
Today's report claims the findings of the study contributes to the understanding of brain evolution and the types of brain required for certain cognitive functions, both in humans and animals.
Lead author Dr Jeremy Kendal from Durham University's Anthropology Department, states: "Small fish may have small brains but they still have some surprising cognitive abilities.
"'Hill-climbing' strategies are widely seen in human society whereby advances in technology are down to people choosing the best technique through social learning and improving on it, resulting in cumulative culture.
"But our results suggest brain size isn't everything when it comes to the capacity for social learning."
The team also found that with the sticklebacks the likelihood of copying the behaviour of others increased with the rate at which the others fed.