A Comparison of Individual Learning and Social Learning in Zebrafish Through an Ethorobotics Approach

Yanpeng Yang, Romain J.G. Clément, Stefano Ghirlanda, Maurizio Porfiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social learning is ubiquitous across the animal kingdom, where animals learn from group members about predators, foraging strategies, and so on. Despite its prevalence and adaptive benefits, our understanding of social learning is far from complete. Here, we study observational learning in zebrafish, a popular animal model in neuroscience. Toward fine control of experimental variables and high consistency across trials, we developed a novel robotics-based experimental test paradigm, in which a robotic replica demonstrated to live subjects the correct door to join a group of conspecifics. We performed two experimental conditions. In the individual training condition, subjects learned the correct door without the replica. In the social training condition, subjects observed the replica approaching both the incorrect door, to no effect, and the correct door, which would open after spending enough time close to it. During these observations, subjects could not actively follow the replica. Zebrafish increased their preference for the correct door over the course of 20 training sessions, but we failed to identify evidence of social learning, whereby we did not register significant differences in performance between the individual and social training conditions. These results suggest that zebrafish may not be able to learn a route by observation, although more research comparing robots to live demonstrators is needed to substantiate this claim.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number71
JournalFrontiers in Robotics and AI
StatePublished - Aug 14 2019


  • behavior
  • biomimetics
  • ethorobotics
  • observational learning
  • robotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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