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Damage-induced alarm cues influence lateralized behaviour but not the relationship between behavioural and habenular asymmetry in convict cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)


Cerebral lateralization, the partitioning of functions into a certain hemisphere of the brain, is ubiquitous among vertebrates. Evidence suggests that the cognitive processing of a stimulus is performed with a specific hemisphere depending in part upon the emotional valence of the stimulus (i.e. whether it is appetitive or aversive). Recent work has implicated a predominance of right-hemisphere processing for aversive stimuli. In fish with laterally placed eyes, the preference to view an object with a specific eye has been used as a proxy for assessing cerebral lateralization. The habenula, one of the most well-known examples of an asymmetrical neural structure, has been linked to behavioural asymmetry in some fish species. Here, we exposed convict cichlid fish (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) to both a social and non-social lateralization task and assessed behavioural lateralization in either the presence or absence of an aversive stimulus, damage-induced alarm cues. We also assessed whether behavioural asymmetry in these tests was related to asymmetry of the habenular nuclei. We found that when alarm cues were present, fish showed increased left-eye (and by proxy, right hemisphere) preference for stimulus viewing. In addition, females, but not males, showed stronger eye preferences when alarm cues were present. We did not find a relationship between behavioural lateralization and habenular lateralization. Our results conflict with previous reports of concordance between behavioural and habenular lateralization in this fish species. However, our results do provide support for the hypothesis of increased right-hemisphere use when an organism is exposed to aversive stimuli.

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We thank Isaac Lank for constructing each behavioural apparatus.


This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Canada Graduate Scholarship-Doctoral (CGS-D), an Alberta Ingenuity Studentship, and a Dissertation Fellowship from the University of Alberta to MKM and an NSERC Discovery Grant (Grant #: 249685) to PLH.

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Correspondence to Michele K. Moscicki.

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Both authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All protocols were approved by the University of Alberta Biological Sciences Animal Policy and Welfare Committee (Protocol Number 5441006). Animals were housed and cared for in accordance with the standards set forth by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). All applicable national and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Moscicki, M.K., Hurd, P.L. Damage-induced alarm cues influence lateralized behaviour but not the relationship between behavioural and habenular asymmetry in convict cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata). Anim Cogn 20, 537–551 (2017).

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  • Convict cichlid
  • Stress
  • Cognitive bias
  • Emotional lateralization
  • Damage-induced alarm cues
  • Habenula