Cuttlefish exert self-control in a delay of gratification task

Alexandra K Schnell, Markus Boeckle, Micaela Rivera, Nicola S Clayton, Roger T Hanlon

    Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

    30 Citations (Scopus)


    The ability to exert self-control varies within and across taxa. Some species can exert self-control for several seconds whereas others, such as large-brained vertebrates, can tolerate delays of up to several minutes. Advanced self-control has been linked to better performance in cognitive tasks and has been hypothesized to evolve in response to specific socio-ecological pressures. These pressures are difficult to uncouple because previously studied species face similar socio-ecological challenges. Here, we investigate self-control and learning performance in cuttlefish, an invertebrate that is thought to have evolved under partially different pressures to previously studied vertebrates. To test self-control, cuttlefish were presented with a delay maintenance task, which measures an individual's ability to forgo immediate gratification and sustain a delay for a better but delayed reward. Cuttlefish maintained delay durations for up to 50-130 s. To test learning performance, we used a reversal-learning task, whereby cuttlefish were required to learn to associate the reward with one of two stimuli and then subsequently learn to associate the reward with the alternative stimulus. Cuttlefish that delayed gratification for longer had better learning performance. Our results demonstrate that cuttlefish can tolerate delays to obtain food of higher quality comparable to that of some large-brained vertebrates.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number3161
    Pages (from-to)20203161
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1946
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2021


    • Animals
    • Decapodiformes
    • Learning
    • Pleasure
    • Reward
    • Self-Control


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