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Sci Rep. 2015 Aug 5;5:12678. doi: 10.1038/srep12678.

Social Eavesdropping in Zebrafish: Tuning of Attention to Social Interactions.

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1] Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Rua da Quinta Grande 6, 2780-156, Oeiras, Portugal [2] ISPA - Instituto Universitário, Rua Jardim do Tabaco 34, 1149-041 Lisboa, Portugal [3] Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme, Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, Av. de Brasilia, 1400-038 Lisboa, Portugal.


Group living animals may eavesdrop on signalling interactions between conspecifics in order to collect adaptively relevant information obtained from others, without incurring in the costs of first-hand information acquisition. This ability (aka social eavesdropping) is expected to impact Darwinian fitness, and hence predicts the evolution of cognitive processes that enable social animals to use public information available in the environment. These adaptive specializations in cognition may have evolved both at the level of learning and memory mechanisms, and at the level of input mechanisms, such as attention, which select the information that is available for learning. Here we used zebrafish to test if attention in a social species is tuned to the exchange of information between conspecifics. Our results show that zebrafish are more attentive towards interacting (i.e. fighting) than towards non-interacting pairs of conspecifics, with the exposure to fighting not increasing activity or stress levels. Moreover, using video playbacks to manipulate form features of the fighting fish, we show that during the assessment phase of the fight, bystanders' attention is more driven by form features of the interacting opponents; whereas during the post-resolution phase, it is driven by biological movement features of the dominant fish chasing the subordinate fish.

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