Magazine article Science News

Fish Nature: Sometimes Shy, Sometimes Bold

Magazine article Science News

Fish Nature: Sometimes Shy, Sometimes Bold

Article excerpt

Would you be surprised if a soul too delicate and risk averse to dare a new brand of toothpaste pushed into dark alleys like a fearless terminator?

Think again, say two researchers who are out to revise the notion of shyness--and notions of individual differences within a species.

"[S]hyness and boldness are often regarded as general personality traits that are expressed across many situations," observe Kristine Coleman of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center in Beaverton and David Sloan Wilson from Binghamton (N.Y.) University. However, that view of the traits as pervasive throughout life's travails did not hold up in tests of more than 100 pumpkinseed sunfish, the researchers report in the October Animal Behaviour.

Roughly a quarter of the fish in one group that was tested consistently fled from a novel intrusion poking into their pond, a yardstick with a red tip, but these apparently timid individuals were no more likely than other fish to hang back from sampling unfamiliar food. And the quarter of the fish who proved bold diners were no more likely than the others to charge ahead and nip at the yardstick.

Mixing tendencies for shyness in one situation with boldness in another makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, according to the researchers. Cringing from the unfamiliar can be adaptive when facing something that bites but maladaptive if that something can be bitten into. "One response is not going to do for all the different situations you encounter in life," Wilson points out.

"I think [the finding] really does apply to humans," he adds. …

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