House sparrows use learned information selectively based on whether reward is hidden or visible

Yotam Ben-Oren*, Noa Truskanov, Arnon Lotem

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Based on past experience, food-related-cues can help foragers to predict the presence and the expected quality of food. However, when the food is already visible there is no need to predict its presence or its other visible attributes, but only those that are still cryptic, such as expected handling time or taste. Optimal foragers should therefore use only knowledge that is relevant to the current setting. Nevertheless, the extent to which they do so is not clear. In a set of experiments, we examined how a change in setting, from hidden to visible reward, affects the reliance of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) on three previously learned attributes of food-related cues (sand colors): the setting of the cue (e.g., whether the food was hidden or exposed), the expected amount of the reward (number of seeds), and the expected handling time. We found that sparrows used all three attributes when the rewards were hidden but reached decisions mainly based on handling time when the rewards were visible. This selective use of cue-related information suggests that animals do not simply associate cues with their average expected value but rather learn different attributes of a cue and use all, or only some of them, in a context-appropriate manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1545-1555
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation1126/19, 871/15


    • Cognition
    • Foraging
    • Handling time
    • Learning
    • Reward visibility


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