Sex and boldness explain individual differences in spatial learning in a lizard

Pau Carazo*, Daniel W A Noble, Dani Chandrasoma, Martin J. Whiting

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    97 Citations (Scopus)


    Understanding individual differences in cognitive performance is a major challenge to animal behaviour and cognition studies. We used the Eastern water skink (Eulamprus quoyii) to examine associations between exploration, boldness and individual variability in spatial learning, a dimension of lizard cognition with important bearing on fitness. We show that males perform better than females in a biologically relevant spatial learning task. This is the first evidence for sex differences in learning in a reptile, and we argue that it is probably owing to sex-specific selective pressures that may be wide-spread in lizards. Across the sexes, we found a clear association between boldness after a simulated predatory attack and the probability of learning the spatial task. In contrast to previous studies, we found a nonlinear association between boldness and learning: both 'bold' and 'shy' behavioural types were more successful learners than intermediate males. Our results do not fit with recent predictions suggesting that individual differences in learning may be linked with behavioural types via high-low-risk/reward trade-offs. We suggest the possibility that differences in spatial cognitive performance may arise in lizards as a consequence of the distinct environmental variability and complexity experienced by individuals as a result of their sex and social tactics.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20133275
    Pages (from-to)1-9
    Number of pages9
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1782
    Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2014


    • Alternative reproductive strategies
    • Behavioural syndromes
    • Cognition
    • Lizards
    • Social specialization
    • Spatial learning


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