Fish Parents Use Punishment: Study Reveals Human-Like Discipline in Aquatic Species

Have you ever felt you are the only one who gets lectured for your mischief? It turns out fish also have human-like parenting behaviors.

A recent study carried out by the research team of the Graduate School of Science at Osaka Metropolitan University found that a specific species of fish practices corporal punishing behavior with its offspring. This study indicates advanced social and cognitive skills, which were previously thought to be unique to higher vertebrates but are now discovered to exist in these aquatic chordates.

During the research, Neolamprologus savoryi (N. savoryi), a cooperatively breeding cichlid fish, was taken under observation. It was kept in a controlled laboratory setting while focusing on the interactions between dominant breeders and subordinate helpers. These helpers, often offspring of the dominant breeders, assisted in tasks such as defending territory and maintaining breeding shelters.

The dominant breeders were at times physically violent towards the idle helpers, including their own offspring, to encourage their involvement in cooperative actions within the shoal. The attack was exclusive to the proactive helpers. As a result, the idle helpers were found to exhibit helping habits owing to the aggressive attacking by the dominant breeders.

The research was done by Ryo Hidaka, Shumpei Sogawa, Masanori Kohda and Satoshi Awata, and the results of their study were published recently in the journal Animal Behaviour. The lead author of the paper, Satoshi Awata mentions, “Even though punishment in cooperatively breeding cichlid fish has been studied, there is limited evidence that they use punishment to encourage cooperative behavior.”

He adds,” Our study demonstrated that nonhuman animals also use punishment to elicit cooperative behaviors in-group members.”

“Our findings reveal that fish, like humans, employ advanced cognitive abilities to sustain their societies. This compels us to reconsider the notion of ‘intelligence’ not only in fish but across the animal kingdom,” Awata said.

These learnings highlight how diverse members of the animal kingdom keep public relations and enforce cooperation among one another, bridging a gap in understanding the evolution of these behaviors.

Key Takeaways

  • The research was carried out on N. savoryi, at Osaka Metropolitan University
  • The research aimed to study characteristics prosocial behavior in the cichlid fish
  • It was observed that dominant breeders punish idle helpers
  • The idle helpers that were attacked by the breeders increased territorial defense
  • No breeder aggression was observed when helpers performed pre-emptive helping behavior prior to dominant breeder attacks
  • Pre-emptive helping by subordinates may function as pre-emptive appeasement
  • Dominant breeders punished even their offspring when idle, suggesting that the helping behaviors of relatives may be facilitated by parental punishment
  • Dominant breeders can use punishment to obtain help from subordinates, even in the fish family

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