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Study Shows That Fish Are Capable Of Detecting The Fear Of Others

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(CTN NEWS) – According to a study published on Thursday in the journal Science, researchers suggest that the behavior may have originated in prehistoric creatures that existed millions of years ago.

Predating the split between fish and mammals, including humans, on the evolutionary tree.

Hans Hofmann, an evolutionary neuroscientist from the University of Texas at Austin who did not participate in the study, stated that certain pathways enabling us to feel fear or love seem ancient.

Although scientists avoid attributing human emotions to animals, they generally agree that fish and other animals have their own moods.

As per recent research, it has been found that fish are capable of detecting fear in their counterparts and can also become scared due to it.

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Researchers Proved The Study By Deleting Fish Oxytocin Genes

Interestingly, this function is controlled by oxytocin, which is the same brain chemical responsible for empathy in humans.

The scientists demonstrated this by removing genes that create and uptake oxytocin from zebrafish brains, a commonly studied tropical fish.

The outcome was that these fish exhibited aloof behavior, and did not respond to or modify their actions according to other fish’s anxiety levels.

However, the emotional abilities of certain modified fish were revived upon receiving oxytocin injections. This allowed them to perceive and mimic fellow fish’s emotions again.

This phenomenon is also known as “emotional contagion” among scientific communities.

According to the study’s co-author Ibukun Akinrinade, a neuroscientist at the University of Calgary, these creatures exhibit similar behavior as humans do when responding to others‘ fears.

According to the research, zebrafish exhibit consolation behavior by paying increased attention to fish that have undergone prior stress.

Earlier studies have shown that oxytocin transmits fear in mice in a similar manner.

Fish' or 'Fishes'? - Quick and Dirty Tips

What Really Is Oxytocin?

According to Rui Oliveira, a co-author of the study and a behavioral biologist at Portugal’s Gulbenkian Institute of Science, the recent research demonstrates how oxytocin has historically played a significant role in emotional transmission as an ancestral trait.

Hofmann explained that this cognitive ability could have existed approximately 450 million years ago, when humans, fish, and other organisms shared a common ancestor.

Although oxytocin is commonly referred to as the “love” hormone, according to Hofmann, it functions more like a “thermostat” that establishes the social importance of a given situation.

It initiates neural circuits that prompt one to flee from danger or participate in courtship behavior.

According to ecologist Carl Safina from Stony Brook University, who was not a participant in the study, this could be crucial for the survival of numerous animals, particularly those living in communities.

Feeling and sharing fear, commonly known as contagious fear, is the most fundamental type of empathy.

Such a unique trait is extremely beneficial when surviving, especially in situations where a member of the group identifies a predator or any potential threat.


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Alishba Waris is an independent journalist working for CTN News. She brings a wealth of experience and a keen eye for detail to her reporting. With a knack for uncovering the truth, Waris isn't afraid to ask tough questions and hold those in power accountable. Her writing is clear, concise, and cuts through the noise, delivering the facts readers need to stay informed. Waris's dedication to ethical journalism shines through in her hard-hitting yet fair coverage of important issues.

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