Understanding how the brain implements social behavior on one hand, and how social processes feedback on the brain to promote fine-tuning of behavioral output according to changes in the social environment is a major challenge in contemporary neuroscience. A critical step to take this challenge successfully is finding the appropriate level of analysis when relating social to biological phenomena. Given the enormous complexity of both the neural networks of the brain and social systems, the use of a cognitive level of analysis (in an information processing perspective) is proposed here as an explanatory interface between brain and behavior. A conceptual framework for a cognitive approach to comparative social neuroscience is proposed, consisting of the following steps to be taken across different species with varying social systems: (1) identification of the functional building blocks of social skills; (2) identification of the cognitive mechanisms underlying the previously identified social skills; and (3) mapping these information processing mechanisms onto the brain. Teleost fish are presented here as a group of choice to develop this approach, given the diversity of social systems present in closely related species that allows for planned phylogenetic comparisons, and the availability of neurogenetic tools that allows the visualization and manipulation of selected neural circuits in model species such as the zebrafish. Finally, the state-of-the art of zebrafish social cognition and of the tools available to map social cognitive abilities to neural circuits in zebrafish are reviewed.
social neuroscience; zebrafish; social cognition; cognitive modules; social behavior; social brain
Social interactions elicit androgen responses whose function has been posited to be the adjustment of androgen-dependent behaviors to social context. The activation of this androgen response is known to be mediated and moderated by psychological factors. In this study we tested the hypothesis that the testosterone (T) changes after a competition are not simply related to its outcome, but rather to the way the subject evaluates the event. In particular we tested two evaluative dimensions of a social interaction: familiarity with the opponent and the subjective evaluation of the outcome as threat or challenge. Challenge/threat occurs in goal relevant situations and represent different motivational states arising from the individuals’ subjective evaluation of the interplay between the task demands and coping resources possessed. For challenge the coping resources exceed the task demands, while threat represents a state where coping resources are insufficient to meet the task demands. In this experiment women competed in pairs, against a same sex opponent using the number tracking test as a competitive task. Losers appraised the competition outcome as more threatening than winners, and displayed higher post-competition T levels than winners. No differences were found either for cortisol (C) or for dehydroepiandrosterone. Threat, familiarity with the opponent and T response were associated only in the loser condition. Moderation analysis suggests that for the women that lost the competition the effect of threat on T is moderated by familiarity with the opponent.
cognitive appraisal; threat; challenge; familiarity; testosterone; competition
The African cichlid Oreochromis mossambicus (Mozambique tilapia) has been used as a model system in a wide range of behavioural and neurobiological studies. The increasing number of genetic tools available for this species, together with the emerging interest in its use for neurobiological studies, increased the need for an accurate hodological mapping of the tilapia brain to supplement the available histological data. The goal of our study was to elaborate a three-dimensional, high-resolution digital atlas using magnetic resonance imaging, supported by Nissl staining. Resulting images were viewed and analysed in all orientations (transverse, sagittal, and horizontal) and manually labelled to reveal structures in the olfactory bulb, telencephalon, diencephalon, optic tectum, and cerebellum. This high resolution tilapia brain atlas is expected to become a very useful tool for neuroscientists using this fish model and will certainly expand their use in future studies regarding the central nervous system.
In an interspecific cooperative context, individuals must be prepared to tolerate close interactive proximity to other species but also need to be able to respond to relevant social stimuli in the most appropriate manner. The neuropeptides vasopressin and oxytocin and their non-mammalian homologues have been implicated in the evolution of sociality and in the regulation of social behaviour across vertebrates. However, little is known about the underlying physiological mechanisms of interspecific cooperative interactions. In interspecific cleaning mutualisms, interactions functionally resemble most intraspecific social interactions. Here we provide the first empirical evidence that arginine vasotocin (AVT), a non-mammalian homologue of arginine vasopressin (AVP), plays a critical role as moderator of interspecific behaviour in the best studied and ubiquitous marine cleaning mutualism involving the Indo-Pacific bluestreak cleaner wrasse Labroides dimidiatus. Exogenous administration of AVT caused a substantial decrease of most interspecific cleaning activities, without similarly affecting the expression of conspecific directed behaviour, which suggests a differential effect of AVT on cleaning behaviour and not a general effect on social behaviour. Furthermore, the AVP-V1a receptor antagonist (manning compound) induced a higher likelihood for cleaners to engage in cleaning interactions and also to increase their levels of dishonesty towards clients. The present findings extend the knowledge of neuropeptide effects on social interactions beyond the study of their influence on conspecific social behaviour. Our evidence demonstrates that AVT pathways might play a pivotal role in the regulation of interspecific cooperative behaviour and conspecific social behaviour among stabilized pairs of cleaner fish. Moreover, our results suggest that the role of AVT as a neurochemical regulator of social behaviour may have been co-opted in the evolution of cooperative behaviour in an interspecific context, a hypothesis that is amenable to further testing on the potential direct central mechanism involved.
Social stressors typically elicit two distinct behavioural responses in vertebrates: an active response (i.e., “fight or flight”) or behavioural inhibition (i.e., freezing). Here, we report an interesting exception to this dichotomy in a Caribbean cleaner fish, which interacts with a wide variety of reef fish clients, including predatory species. Cleaning gobies appraise predatory clients as potential threat and become stressed in their presence, as evidenced by their higher cortisol levels when exposed to predatory rather than to non-predatory clients. Nevertheless, cleaning gobies neither flee nor freeze in response to dangerous clients but instead approach predators faster (both in captivity and in the wild), and interact longer with these clients than with non-predatory clients (in the wild). We hypothesise that cleaners interrupt the potentially harmful physiological consequences elicited by predatory clients by becoming increasingly proactive and by reducing the time elapsed between client approach and the start of the interaction process. The activation of a stress response may therefore also be responsible for the longer cleaning service provided by these cleaners to predatory clients in the wild. Future experimental studies may reveal similar patterns in other social vertebrate species when, for instance, individuals approach an opponent for reconciliation after a conflict.
Research on the diversity, evolution and stability of cooperative behaviour has generated a considerable body of work. As concepts simplify the real world, theoretical solutions are typically also simple. Real behaviour, in contrast, is often much more diverse. Such diversity, which is increasingly acknowledged to help in stabilizing cooperative outcomes, warrants detailed research about the proximate mechanisms underlying decision-making. Our aim here is to focus on the potential role of neuroendocrine mechanisms on the regulation of the expression of cooperative behaviour in vertebrates. We first provide a brief introduction into the neuroendocrine basis of social behaviour. We then evaluate how hormones may influence known cognitive modules that are involved in decision-making processes that may lead to cooperative behaviour. Based on this evaluation, we will discuss specific examples of how hormones may contribute to the variability of cooperative behaviour at three different levels: (i) within an individual; (ii) between individuals and (iii) between species. We hope that these ideas spur increased research on the behavioural endocrinology of cooperation.
cooperative behaviour; vertebrates; arginine–vasopressin; oxytocin; androgens; glucocorticoids
Animal conflicts are influenced by social experience such that a previous winning experience increases the probability of winning the next agonistic interaction, whereas a previous losing experience has the opposite effect. Since androgens respond to social interactions, increasing in winners and decreasing in losers, we hypothesized that socially induced transient changes in androgen levels could be a causal mediator of winner/loser effects. To test this hypothesis, we staged fights between dyads of size-matched males of the Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus). After the first contest, winners were treated with the anti-androgen cyproterone acetate and losers were supplemented with 11-ketotestosterone. Two hours after the end of the first fight, two contests were staged simultaneously between the winner of the first fight and a naive male and between the loser of first fight and another naive male. The majority (88%) of control winners also won the second interaction, whereas the majority of control losers (87%) lost their second fight, thus confirming the presence of winner/loser effects in this species. As predicted, the success of anti-androgen-treated winners in the second fight decreased significantly to chance levels (44%), but the success of androgenized losers (19%) did not show a significant increase. In summary, the treatment with anti-androgen blocks the winner effect, whereas androgen administration fails to reverse the loser effect, suggesting an involvement of androgens on the winner but not on the loser effect.
social experience; winner effect; androgens; testosterone; aggression
Marine cleaning interactions in which cleaner fish or shrimps remove parasites from visiting 'client' reef fish are a textbook example of mutualism. However, there is yet no conclusive evidence that cleaning organisms significantly improve the health of their clients. We tested the stress response of wild caught individuals of two client species, Chromis dimidiata and Pseudanthias squamipinnis, that had either access to a cleaner wrasse Labroides dimidiatus, or to cleaner shrimps Stenopus hispidus and Periclimenes longicarpus, or no access to cleaning organisms.
For both client species, we found an association between the presence of cleaner organisms and a reduction in the short term stress response of client fish to capture, transport and one hour confinement in small aquaria, as measured with cortisol levels.
It is conceivable that individuals who are more easily stressed than others pay a fitness cost in the long run. Thus, our data suggest that marine cleaning mutualisms are indeed mutualistic. More generally, measures of stress responses or basal levels may provide a useful tool to assess the impact of interspecific interactions on the partner species.
In the Azorean rock-pool blenny (Parablennius parvicornis) reproductively active males display alternative morphotypes, which differ in the expression of secondary sexual characters (SSC). Males expressing SSC, the M+ morphotype, have high androgen levels and compete for crevices that will be visited by females to spawn. M+ males holding nests court females and care for the eggs. Males with low expression of SSC, the M− morphotype, have low levels of androgens and reproduce by stealing fertilizations from the M+ males. Based on the hypothesis that androgens are immunosuppressive, we expected these morphotypes to differ in immunocompetence. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a field study in which we collected repeated blood samples to monitor leukocyte populations (blood smears), and to measure the primary antibody response of males that were experimentally challenged with a foreign non-pathogenic antigen (sheep red blood cells). Circulating levels of 11-ketotestosterone and testosterone were higher in M+ males than in M− males. Neither granulocyte nor thrombocyte counts did covariate with androgens or male tactic. In contrast, lymphocyte counts and humoral antibody response were negatively correlated with body size, and as expected, both were lower in M+ than in M− males. Interestingly, in M+ males androgen levels decreased after immunization, and this was less in nest-holder males than in M+ males that were floating around in the pools. Within each morphotype we found no relationship between androgens and immunocompetence. The latter result is not supportive for androgen regulated immunosuppression in M+ males. A possible alternative is enhancement of immunity in M− males. These males had relatively high levels of injuries in comparison with M+ males. High immunity might be a consequence of high infection rate because of such injuries.
alternative reproductive tactics; leukocytes; 11-ketotestosterone; testosterone; sheep red blood cells; haemagglutination