Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 1077–1091 | Cite as

Perception and discrimination of movement and biological motion patterns in fish

  • V. SchluesselEmail author
  • N. Kortekamp
  • J. A. Ortiz Cortes
  • A. Klein
  • H. Bleckmann
Original Paper


Vision is of primary importance for many fish species, as is the recognition of movement. With the exception of one study, assessing the influence of conspecific movement on shoaling behaviour, the perception of biological motion in fish had not been studied in a cognitive context. The aim of the present study was therefore to assess the discrimination abilities of two teleost species in regard to simple and complex movement patterns of dots and objects, including biological motion patterns using point and point-light displays (PDs and PLDs). In two-alternative forced-choice experiments, in which choosing the designated positive stimulus was food-reinforced, fish were first tested in their ability to distinguish the video of a stationary black dot on a light background from the video of a moving black dot presented at different frequencies and amplitudes. While all fish succeeded in learning the task, performance declined with decreases in either or both parameters. In subsequent tests, cichlids and damselfish distinguished successfully between the videos of two dots moving at different speeds and amplitudes, between two moving dot patterns (sinus vs. expiring sinus) and between animated videos of two moving organisms (trout vs. eel). Transfer tests following the training of the latter showed that fish were unable to identify the positive stimulus (trout) by means of its PD alone, thereby indicating that the ability of humans to spontaneously recognize an organism based on its biological motion may not be present in fish. All participating individuals successfully discriminated between two PDs and two PLDs after a short period of training, indicating that biological motions presented in form of PLDs are perceived and can be distinguished. Results were the same for the presentation of dark dots on a light background and light dots on a dark background.


Cognition Behavior Learning Teleost 



We would like to thank S. Braun for animal caretaking, maintenance and repairs, S. Büttner and U. Dung for help with the training of fish and F. Kaldenbach for help with the construction of video presentations. The research reported herein was performed under the guidelines established by the current German animal protection law. This study was funded by a DFG Grant to VS (SCHL1919/4-1).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 12 (MPG 830 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. Schluessel
    • 1
    Email author
  • N. Kortekamp
    • 1
  • J. A. Ortiz Cortes
    • 1
  • A. Klein
    • 1
  • H. Bleckmann
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of ZoologyRheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität BonnBonnGermany

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