Aggression and related behavioral traits: The impact of winning and losing and the role of hormones

Ching Chang, Cheng Yu Li, Ryan L. Earley, Yuying Hsu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


A suite of correlated behaviors reflecting between-individual consistency in behavior across multiple situations is termed a "behavioral syndrome." Researchers have suggested that a cause for the correlation between different behaviors might lie in the neuroendocrine system. In this study, we examined the relationships between aggressiveness (a fish's readiness to perform gill display to its mirror image) and each of boldness (the readiness to emerge from a shelter), exploratory tendency (the readiness to approach a novel shelter), and learning performance (the probability of entering the correct reservoir in a T-maze test) in a mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus. We explored the possibility that the relationships between them arise because these behaviors are all modulated by cortisol and testosterone. We also tested the stability of the relationships between these behaviors shortly after using a winning or losing experience to alter individuals' aggressiveness. The results were that aggressiveness correlated positively with boldness and the tendency to explore, and that these three behavioral traits were all positively correlated with pre-experience testosterone levels. Aggressiveness and boldness also positively correlated with pre-experience cortisol levels; exploratory tendency did not. The relationship between aggressiveness and boldness appeared to be stronger than that between either of them and exploratory tendency. These results suggest that testosterone and cortisol play important roles in mediating the correlations between these behavioral traits. Learning performance was not significantly correlated with the other behavioral traits or with levels of testosterone or cortisol. Recent experience in contests influenced individuals' aggressiveness, tendency to explore, and learning performance but not their boldness; individuals that received a winning experience were quicker to display to their mirror image and performed better in the learning task but were slower to approach a novel object than were individuals that lost. Contest experience did not, however, significantly influence the relationships between aggressiveness and any of boldness, exploratory tendency, or learning performance. The results show that the individual components of a suite of correlated behaviors can preserve a flexibility to respond differently to environmental stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)801-813
Number of pages13
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Dec

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Aggression and related behavioral traits: The impact of winning and losing and the role of hormones'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this