Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Robin M. Tinghitella, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jason Keagy

Third Advisor

Shannon M. Murphy

Fourth Advisor

Thomas W. Quinn


Cognition, Mate choice, Problem-solving, Sexual selection, Sexual signaling, Threespine stickleback


Cognitive ability varies dramatically among individuals, yet the manner in which this variation affects reproduction has rarely been investigated. Here, we asked 1) whether male sexual signals reflect cognitive ability and whether females prefer males with superior cognitive abilities, and 2) whether female cognition affects male and female mating decisions? We addressed these questions in a mutual mate choice system, threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus). We tested cognitive performance by presenting the males and females with a novel task (a barrier to food) to evaluate problem-solving abilities and learning. We found that males that problem solve have elaborate sexual signals and are preferred by females. However, contrary to our expectations, female cognitive abilities did not influence male courtship vigor or their own mating decisions. In dynamic environments, such as the rivers where these fish live, problem-solving ability is a neurological attribute that may preferred by females because it is important in the contexts of male foraging or parental care. Additionally, we argue that males and females experience different selection pressures for cognitive abilities, and therefore express different preferences for cognition in their mates. Our research adds to the expanding body of literature linking cognition and sexual selection, demonstrates that cognitive ability may play an important role in a diverse array of mating systems, and explains how cognition may assist in the maintenance of variation sexual signals within natural populations.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Ross Minter

File size

73 p.

File format





Animal behavior