Wild psychometrics: Evidence for 'general' cognitive performance in wild New Zealand robins, Petroica longipes

Change log
Boogert, NJ 
Burns, KC 

In human psychometric testing, individuals' scores in tests of diverse cognitive processes are positively correlated, with a ‘general intelligence’ factor (g) typically accounting for at least 40% of total variance. Individual differences in cognitive ability have been extensively studied in humans, yet they have received far less attention in nonhuman animals. In particular, the development of a test battery suitable for quantifying individual cognitive performance in birds remains in its infancy. Additionally, implementing this approach in the wild, where the ecological significance of cognition can also be explored, presents considerable logistical challenges for most species. We developed a cognitive test battery for wild New Zealand North Island robins. Our battery comprised six tasks based on established measures of avian cognitive performance: a motor task, colour and shape discrimination, reversal learning, spatial memory and inhibitory control. Robins varied greatly in their ability to solve these tasks and we found weakly positive, nonsignificant correlations between most tasks. A principal components analysis of task performances yielded two factors with eigenvalues >1. The first component extracted explained over 34% of the variance in cognitive performance and all six tasks loaded positively on this first component. We show, using randomization tests, that these results are robust. Our results thus suggest that a general cognitive factor, analogous to human g, underpins cognitive performance in wild North Island robins tested in their natural habitat.

cognitive test battery, g, general intelligence factor, individual variation, Petroica longipes
Journal Title
Animal Behaviour
Conference Name
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Elsevier BV
This research was funded by a Fast-Start grant from the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand (VUW1304) and a Rutherford Foundation New Zealand Postdoctoral Fellowship to R.C.S.