Linking fearfulness and coping styles in fish

C.I. Martins, P.I.M. Silva, L.E.C. Conceição, B. Costas, E. Höglund, O. Overli, J.W. Schrama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Consistent individual differences in cognitive appraisal and emotional reactivity, including fearfulness, are important personality traits in humans, non-human mammals, and birds. Comparative studies on teleost fishes support the existence of coping styles and behavioral syndromes also in poikilothermic animals. The functionalist approach to emotions hold that emotions have evolved to ensure appropriate behavioral responses to dangerous or rewarding stimuli. Little information is however available on how evolutionary widespread these putative links between personality and the expression of emotional or affective states such as fear are. Here we disclose that individual variation in coping style predicts fear responses in Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus, using the principle of avoidance learning. Fish previously screened for coping style were given the possibility to escape a signalled aversive stimulus. Fearful individuals showed a range of typically reactive traits such as slow recovery of feed intake in a novel environment, neophobia, and high post-stress cortisol levels. Hence, emotional reactivity and appraisal would appear to be an essential component of animal personality in species distributed throughout the vertebrate subphylum.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere28084
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • guppy poecilia-reticulata
  • rainbow-trout
  • stress responsiveness
  • oncorhynchus-mykiss
  • personality-traits
  • investigating fear
  • plasma-cortisol
  • nile tilapia
  • behavior
  • neuroendocrine

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