Dominance and Social Learning in Kea (Nestor notabilis)


  • Lucie Marie Gudenus University of Vienna


Social learning describes learning through observing another individual, which can be facilitated by different mechanisms (e.g., stimulus enhancement, emulation learning, imitation) [1]. It was already shown that Kea, a highly social parrot endemic to New Zealand known for its distinctive exploratory behavior, which have had the opportunity to observe a conspecific performing a specific task, subsequently exhibited higher efficiency in performing the same task compared to individuals without prior demonstration [1]. However, animals should be selective about who and when to copy to get the most effective social learning outcome [2]. To date, no study has been conducted on the effect of dominance rank on social learning in Kea. The present master’s thesis aims to answer this gap in the literature and to provide new insights into the strategies used in social learning.

Based on an experiment with a captive group of Kea it is investigated whether the in-group dominance rank of a demonstrator has an influence on social learning behavior of an observer. After determining the hierarchical structure of the group within a tournament design, the most dominant and most subordinate Kea are chosen as demonstrators for two test groups respectively. The demonstrators are trained to solve a task. The learning task consists of a test box with a simple opening mechanism which requires one action (pulling the correct string) to gain access to a reward. In the observational sessions, the test group individuals observe the respective demonstrator taking the correct actions to solve the task. Immediately after observation, the subjects receive a test trial with the box. In the analysis of the data, latency to approach, manipulate and solve the box as well as opening success is used. The results are compared between the two test groups and to a control group, which had access to the test box without prior demonstration.

As this is an ongoing study, no results have yet been obtained. We predict that social learning will be most successful with a dominant demonstrator. Previous studies, e.g., with laying hens, suggest that individuals learn more effectively from higher ranked demonstrators than from lower ranked ones [3]. The outcome of this study will contribute to the understanding of learning mechanisms and transmission bias.

[1] L. Huber, S. Rechberger and M. Taborsky, "Social learning affects object exploration and manipulation in keas, Nestor notabilis", Animal Behaviour, vol. 62, no. 5, pp. 945-954, 2001. Available: 10.1006/anbe.2001.1822

[2] K. Laland, "Social learning strategies", Animal Learning & Behavior, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 4-14, 2004. Available: 10.3758/bf03196002

[3] C. Nicol and S. Pope, "Social learning in small flocks of laying hens", Animal Behaviour, vol. 47, no. 6, pp. 1289-1296, 1994. Available: 10.1006/anbe.1994.1177