A new study revealed how grey squirrels quickly learn, and how they favoured a particular paw. The study suggested that grey squirrels who strongly favoured either side, left or right, are not good enough at learning a task.
Just as humans who are usually left or right-handed, many animals also tend to favour one side of their body for different tasks. The study which was conducted by the University of Exeter found that these grey squirrels who strongly favoured one side had to learn to use a paw, rather than their mouth to get nuts.
Dr Lisa Leaver said, “It has been suggested that being strongly lateralised makes brains more efficient, with each hemisphere focussing on different tasks.” She added: “However, limited data from studies of mammals suggest a weak or even negative relationship.”
The study which measured the speed of learning among grey squirrels suggests that strong lateralisation is linked to poor cognitive performance. The experiment took the scenario of 30 squirrels and was presented with a transparent tube containing peanuts. Since the tube was too narrow, the squirrels had no option but to learn to use their paw to get the nuts.
By measuring both how quickly squirrels learned and how strongly they favoured a particular paw, the researchers could assess both learning and laterality.