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Modification of Consummatory (Attack) Behavior Resulting From Prior Habituation of Appetitive (Threat) Components of the Agonistic Sequence in Male Betta Splendens (Pisces, Belontiidae)

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To investigate the effects of habituation of threat behavior on subsequent attack in pairs of conspecific male Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens), two experiments were performed. In Experiment I, pairs of fish were separated by either a clear or opaque Plexiglas partition for 6 hours. The partition was then removed and the pairs met in a I hour direct encounter. The pairs which had been in visual contact for the 6 hours during which threat display occurred showed less fighting than the visually isolated pairs. However, in the group having visual contact much biting was directed at the partition during the 6 hour habituation period, a possible explanation for decreased fighting during the direct encounter. Therefore, Experiment 2 was conducted in such a manner that the biting at the partition was eliminated (although threat responses were retained) by separating the pairs by 5.08 cm for the 6 hour habituation period. A second group was separated by 12.60 cm to investigate response-independent effects of habituation since no threat responses were elicited at that distance. A third group was separated by an opaque partition as in Experiment I. The subsequent direct encounters were 60 minutes as in Experiment I. The only quantitative difference in attack behavior between groups was in the first 5 minutes, where the pairs separated by 12.60 cm bit less than pairs in the other two groups. This attack difference is explained in terms of an initially retarded agonistic sequence as compared to the other groups, apparently resulting from a combination of habituation and response-independent treatment effects. However, once fighting began in the habituation groups, it was qualitatively more vigorous than in the nonhabituation group. Also, in several instances, there was an unexpected appearance of intermale quasi-sexual behavior in the habituation groups only. The present experimental paradigm is interpreted as being that of a dominance encounter rather than either a territorial boundary fight or a territorial defense against an intruder. It is suggested that threat habituation does not attenuate subsequent attack in a dominance situation, but it is possible that there may be such an attack attenuation if the same operations were applied to clearly territorial Siamese fighting fish.

Affiliations: 1: (Laboratory of Psychobiology, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


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