Animals in social environments can enhance their learning efficiency by observing the behaviour of others. Our previous study showed that learning efficiency of schooling fish increased through the observation of the behaviour of trained demonstrator conspecifics. The present study aimed to verify the key factor of observational learning by investigating what information is important for social transmission of feeding information. A striped jack (Pseudocaranx dentex) observer was provided with one of the five observation treatments: (a) pellets observation, where pellets were dropped near the aeration in an adjacent tank; (b) responding conspecific observation, where a trained conspecific demonstrator responded to the aeration without food in the adjacent tank; (c) foraging conspecific observation, where a conspecific demonstrator foraged near the aeration in the adjacent tank; (d) nearby pellets observation, where pellets were dropped in a transparent column near the aeration in the observer tank; and (e) foraging heterospecific observation, where a filefish (Stephanolepis cirrhifer) demonstrator foraged near the aeration in the adjacent tank. The response to the aeration in these observers was compared with that of controls who did not observe any behaviour. Only individuals who observed foraging conspecifics showed a response to the aeration after observing. These results suggest that observer fish acquire feeding information not through recognition of prey items or through imitation of the demonstrator, but through the vicarious reinforcement of a conspecific for foraging.
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