10.1038/s41598-020-72090-8

Statistical learning in domestic chicks is modulated by strain and sex

Abstract

Statistical learning is a key mechanism for detecting regularities from a variety of sensory inputs. Precocial newborn domestic chicks provide an excellent model for (1) exploring unsupervised forms of statistical learning in a comparative perspective, and (2) elucidating the ecological function of statistical learning using imprinting procedures. Here we investigated the role of the sex of the chicks in modulating the direction of preference (for familiarity or novelty) in a visual statistical learning task already employed with chicks and human infants. Using both automated tracking and direct human coding, we confirmed chicks\u2019 capacity to recognize the presence of a statistically defined structure underlying a continuous stream of shapes. Using a different chicken strain than previous studies, we were also able to highlight sex differences in chicks\u2019 propensity to approach the familiar or novel sequence. This could also explain a previous failure to reveal statistical learning in chicks which sex was however not determined. Our study confirms chicks\u2019 ability to track visual statistics. The pivotal role of sex in determining familiarity or novelty preferences in this species and the interaction with the animals\u2019 strain highlight the importance to contextualize comparative research within the ecology of each species

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