Social demonstration of colour preference improves the learning of associated demonstrated actions

Noam Zurek, Na'ama Aljadeff, Donya Khoury, Lucy M. Aplin, Arnon Lotem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We studied how different types of social demonstration improve house sparrows' (Passer domesticus) success in solving a foraging task that requires both operant learning (opening covers) and discrimination learning (preferring covers of the rewarding colour). We provided learners with either paired demonstration (of both cover opening and colour preference), action-only demonstration (of opening white covers only), or no demonstration (a companion bird eating without covers). We found that sparrows failed to learn the two tasks with no demonstration, and learned them best with a paired demonstration. Interestingly, the action of cover opening was learned faster with paired rather than action-only demonstration despite being equally demonstrated in both. We also found that only with paired demonstration, the speed of operant (action) learning was related to the demonstrator's level of activity. Colour preference (i.e. discrimination learning) was eventually acquired by all sparrows that learned to open covers, even without social demonstration of colour preference. Thus, adding a demonstration of colour preference was actually more important for operant learning, possibly as a result of increasing the similarity between the demonstrated and the learned tasks, thereby increasing the learner's attention to the actions of the demonstrator. Giving more attention to individuals in similar settings may be an adaptive strategy directing social learners to focus on ecologically relevant behaviours and on tasks that are likely to be learned successfully.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31
Number of pages1
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - 9 Apr 2024


  • Cognitive evolution
  • Cognitive mechanisms
  • House sparrows
  • Mechanistic constraints
  • Social learning
  • Social learning mechanisms


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