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Publication - Dr Suzanne Held

    “Where’s Waldo?” for kea: preference for cognitive enrichment difficulty

    Citation

    Lopez, RR, Held, S, Mendl, M, Schwing, R & Huber, L, 2017, ‘“Where’s Waldo?” for kea: preference for cognitive enrichment difficulty’.

    Abstract

    Cognitive enrichment is a novel enrichment category based on animals’ cognitive skills for problem-solving. Research has shown that the amount or level of challenge presented through enrichment is also of relevance to maximize well-being effects. However, work has focused on few species and usually assumes a certain task is challenging for the subject.
    We explored preference for cognitive challenge level by captive kea (Nestor notabilis), chosen by their behavior and intelligence. Eleven kea were trained in a visual discrimination task to identify a rewarded image on one of two boards with a concealed food item behind the rewarded panel. After two consecutive sessions with success >85% or one perfect session, kea received a setup with different/more background images and/or colors. After testing six variations, we identified the ones in which animals took the most and least sessions to reach criterion and these were their high and low-challenge tasks. A T-maze was used to present kea with these tasks simultaneously. Kea received two training sessions in the maze with forced exploration of both sides followed by eight sessions with both arms of the maze unblocked. Data on arm choice and task solution were collected.
    Six kea only received four challenge discrimination sessions due to a highly-lateralized response. Differences in terms of the selected task (easy/hard) of the remaining five birds varied between individuals and task difficulty. Follow-up tests based on treatment reversal are underway and variations with easier and harder levels are planned to explore changes in animals’ preferences.

    Full details in the University publications repository