Probing aggressive motivation in a cichlid fish

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35 Citations (Scopus)


The duration of startles provides an inverse measure of motivation to resume the previous activity. Here, we use a novel method in which one convict cichlid fish (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) of a competing pair was startled independently of the opponent. Fish were given various opponents and the mean startle duration determined. This mean was negatively correlated with the mean use of highly escalated 'frontal activities' such as biting and frontal display, but not the less escalated lateral displays or tail beating. Thus the startle duration was a reliable surrogate measure of the most escalated components of aggressive interactions. That is, it provided a motivational probe for aggressiveness of individual fish. Fight motivation is often determined in terms of fight duration or physiological costs for losers, who reveal the costs they are prepared to pay. We discuss various potential advantages of the motivational probe over previous measures, particularly with respect to winners and losers and different times during the interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)762-764
Number of pages3
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number6
Early online date12 Aug 2009
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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