Behaviour 2019
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Social learning from an artefact
Andrés Camacho-Alpízar, Tristan Eckersley, Connor T. Lambert, Gopika Balasubramanian, Lauren M. Guillette. Department of Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

The enduring products of behaviour, called ‘artefacts’ (eg a bird nest) are a potential source of social information. To learn from an artefact, an individual must first recognize an item as an object that can provide relevant information (ie the artefact should be recognized as a nest). Using zebra finches Taeniopygia guttata we examined whether observing a conspecific using a nest facilitates future recognition of a nest as a source of social information. Half of the subjects observed a pair incubating eggs in a nest, while half did not get this opportunity. All subjects then observed an unoccupied nest (the artefact) of their non-preferred colour material after which they built their first nest. As predicted, birds that observed conspecifics nesting used information from the artefact by increasing their use of the artefact-material colour in their nest building. This was not true for control birds.  Our data show that observing conspecifics and their nest facilitates information use from a future artefact, affecting how first-time builders use social information. Social learning is not limited to observing behaviour, but also gathering information from an artefact of behavior.