Liedtke, J., Schneider, J. M. 2017. Social makes smart: Rearing conditions affect learning and social behaviour in jumping spiders. Animal Cognition 20(6), 1093–1106.

There is a long-standing debate as to whether social or physical environmental aspects drive the evolution and development of cognitive abilities. Surprisingly few studies make use of developmental plasticity to compare the effects of these two domains during development on behaviour later in life. Here, we present rearing effects on the development of learning abilities and social behaviour in the jumping spider Marpissa muscosa. These spiders are ideally suited for this purpose because they possess the ability to learn and can be reared in groups but also in isolation without added stress. This is a critical but rarely met requirement for experimentally varying the social environment to test its impact on cognition. We split broods of spiders and reared them either in a physically or in a socially enriched environment. A third group kept under completely deprived conditions served as a ‘no-enrichment’ control. We tested the spiders’ learning abilities by using a modified T-maze. Social behaviour was investigated by confronting spiders with their own mirror image. Results show that spiders reared in groups outperform their conspecifics from the control, i.e. ‘no-enrichment’, group in both tasks. Physical enrichment did not lead to such an increased performance. We therefore tentatively suggest that growing up in contact with conspecifics induces the development of cognitive abilities in this species.