Study sheds light on squirrel psychology

Jul 28, 2009
Study sheds light on squirrel psychology
Grey squirrels learn from observing others, according to a new study.

(PhysOrg.com) -- The ability of grey squirrels to learn from observing others is highlighted in a new study. The research shows how squirrels can quickly learn from watching their peers, particularly if it relates to stealing food. The research adds to growing evidence that animals are primed to learn quickly about what is most important to their survival and that they learn by observing others. It is the first study to test the ability of grey squirrels to learn from observation.

The research team tested the squirrels' ability to learn to choose between two pots of food after watching another squirrel remove a nut from one of the pots. One group was rewarded for choosing the same pot as the previous squirrel, the second group was rewarded for targeting the other pot. Those that were rewarded for choosing food from the other pot learned more quickly than those that were rewarded for choosing the same pot. This suggests that grey squirrels learn more quickly to recognise the absence of food.

The study was repeated, but instead of observing another squirrel, the animals were trained with the use of a card. In this test, the squirrels showed no significant difference in their ability to learn to choose the same or opposite pot.

The study suggests that squirrels are primed to recognise other squirrels as potential food thieves. It also shows that they learn more quickly from real life observations.

Corresponding author Dr Lisa Leaver of the University of Exeter, said: "Our study is significant because it is the first to show that grey squirrels learn from observing others. It adds to growing evidence that all kinds of animals, from humans and other primates to many species of birds, learn from observation and that they have evolved to learn quickly about those things that are most important to their lives - in the case of grey squirrels, gathering and storing ."

The research team now hopes to conduct further studies into the psychology of grey squirrels to learn more about how the learn from - and possibly deceive - one another.

Source: University of Exeter (news : web)

Explore further: Dogs hear our words and how we say them

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New hope for the red squirrel

Oct 16, 2008

A number of red squirrels are immune to squirrelpox viral disease, which many believed would lead to the extinction of the species, scientists have discovered.

Research: Gray squirrel at risk in Britain

Apr 27, 2008

The gray squirrel population throughout Britain could soon be dominated by a mutant squirrel species whose numbers are dramatically rising, researchers say.

Juvenile Squirrels Need Some Stress Hormone to Learn

Mar 14, 2008

Tests on the influence that a stress-related hormone has on learning in ground squirrels could have an impact on understanding how it influences human learning, according to a University of Chicago researcher.

Nuts at dawn: Britain's squirrels fight for survival

Apr 23, 2009

Deep in the heart of England's seemingly peaceful countryside, a fierce battle for survival is being waged between the domestic red squirrel, its tougher grey cousin -- and a new mutant arrival.

Denver Zoo monkey dies of plague

May 22, 2007

A hooded capuchin monkey at the Denver Zoo has died of the plague, which officials suspect was transmitted by a squirrel.

Recommended for you

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

11 hours ago

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

Amazonian shrimps: An underwater world still unknown

12 hours ago

A study reveals how little we know about the Amazonian diversity. Aiming to resolve a scientific debate about the validity of two species of freshwater shrimp described in the first half of the last century, ...

Factors that drive sexual traits

14 hours ago

Many male animals have multiple displays and behaviours to attract females; and often the larger or greater the better.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

kerry
not rated yet Jul 28, 2009
It would be great if squirrels at my campus could learn how NOT to jump into the street/sidewalk right when a car/bike is passing by..
louiswap
not rated yet Aug 03, 2009
I have heard that IQ is directly proportional to the head-to-body ratio. The larger the head is, compared to the rest of the body, the smarter the animal tends to be. I can believe this along the lines of the common squirrel.

In my life, I've raised 3 red & gray squirrels, and I know they are very intelligent animals. One learned, on its own, to open doors by jumping up to the knob, hugging the knob, and then spinning its body around. The squirrel had to reason through a number of 'cause and effects' to figure out such a plan.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.