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10.02.2020 | Ausgabe 1/2020 Open Access

Learning & Behavior 1/2020

Behavioral flexibility: A review, a model, and some exploratory tests

Learning & Behavior > Ausgabe 1/2020
Stephen E. G. Lea, Pizza K. Y. Chow, Lisa A. Leaver, Ian P. L. McLaren
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This paper aimed to explore and clarify the concept of behavioral flexibility. A selective literature review explored how the concept of behavioral flexibility has been used in ways that range from acknowledging the fact that animals’ behavior is not always bounded by instinctual constraints, to describing the variation between species in their capacity for innovative foraging, a capacity that has repeatedly been linked to having a brain larger than would be predicted from body size. This wide range of usages of a single term has led to some conceptual confusion. We sought to find a more precise meaning for behavioral flexibility by representing it within a simple formal model of problem solving. The key to our model is to distinguish between an animal’s state of knowledge about the world and its observable behavior, using a construct of response strength to represent that underlying knowledge. We modelled behavioral flexibility as a parameter in the function that transforms response strengths into observable response probabilities. We tested this model in simulations based on some recent experimental work on animal problem solving. Initial results showed that parametric manipulation can mimic some of the behavioral effects that have been attributed to flexibility.

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