General Cognitive Ability Predicts Survival-Readiness in Genetically Heterogeneous Laboratory Mice

Louis D. Matzel, Himali M. Patel, Monica C. Piela, Margarita D. Manzano, Alison Tu, Dylan W. Crawford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although genetically heterogeneous laboratory mice express individual differences in general cognitive ability (c.f., “intelligence”), it is unknown whether these differences are translated into behaviors that would promote survival. Here, genetically heterogeneous laboratory CD-1 mice were administered a series of cognitive tests from which their aggregate general cognitive ability was estimated. Subsequently, all animals were tested on nine (unlearned) tasks designed to assess behaviors that could contribute to survival in the wild. These tests included nest building (in the home and a novel environment), exploration, several indices of food finding, retrieval, and preference, and predator avoidance. Like general cognitive ability, a principal component analysis of these measures of survival-related behaviors (survival-readiness) yielded a general factor that accounted for ∼25% of the variance of mice across all of the tasks. An aggregate metric of general cognitive ability predicted an aggregate metric of general survival-readiness (r = 0.64), suggesting that more intelligent animals would be more suited for survival in natural environments. The nature of the pattern of correlations between general cognitive ability and performance on individual tests of survival-readiness (where tests conducted in previously unexplored contexts were more closely related to general cognitive ability) suggests the possibility that heightened attention (which is taxed in a novel environment) may be the common mediator of both of these classes of abilities, although other potential mediators are discussed. In total, these results suggest that performance on tasks that are explicitly intended to assess the likelihood of survival can be impacted by cognitive abilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number531014
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - Nov 5 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


  • fitness
  • foraging
  • hoarding
  • intelligence
  • mice
  • nest building
  • survival


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