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Developmental history, energetic state and choice impulsivity in European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jonathon DunnORCiD, Dr Clare Andrews, Professor Daniel Nettle, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Impulsivity—the extent to which a reward is devalued by the amount of time until it is realized—can be affected by an individual’s current energetic state and long-term developmental history. In European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), a previous study found that birds that were lighter for their skeletal size, and birds that had undergone greater shortening of erythrocyte telomeres over the course of development, were more impulsive as adults. Here, we studied the impulsivity of a separate cohort of 29 starlings hand-reared under different combinations of food amount and begging effort. The task involved repeated choice between a key yielding one pellet after 3 s and another key yielding two pellets after 8 s. Impulsivity was operationalised as the proportion of choices for the short-delay option. We found striking variation in impulsivity. We did not replicate the results of the previous study concerning developmental telomere attrition, though combining all the evidence to date in a meta-analysis did support that robustness of that association. We also found that early-life conditions and mass for skeletal size interacted in predicting impulsivity. Specifically, birds that had experienced the combination of high begging effort and low food amount were less impulsive than other groups, and the usual negative relationship between impulsivity and body mass was abolished in birds that had experienced high begging effort. We discuss methodological differences between our study and studies that measure impulsivity using an adjusting-delay procedure.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dunn J, Andrews C, Nettle D, Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Animal Cognition

Year: 2019

Volume: 22

Issue: 3

Pages: 413-421

Print publication date: 01/05/2019

Online publication date: 06/03/2019

Acceptance date: 28/02/2019

Date deposited: 06/03/2019

ISSN (print): 1435-9448

ISSN (electronic): 1435-9456

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s10071-019-01254-5


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/J016446/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)