Contest experience and body size affect different types of contest decisions

Yu Ju Chen, Yuying Hsu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


This study examined the relative importance of contest experience and size differences to behavioral decisions over the course of contests. Using a mangrove rivulus fish, Kryptolebias marmoratus, we showed that although contest experience and size differences jointly determined contest outcomes, they affected contestants’ interactions at different stages of contests. Contest experience affected behavioral decisions at earlier stages of contests, including the tendency and latency to launch attacks, the tendency to escalate contests into mutual attacks and the outcome of non-escalated contests. Once contests were escalated into mutual attacks, the degree of size difference affected the fish’s persistence in escalation and chance of winning, but contest experience did not. These results support the hypothesis that contest experience modifies individuals’ estimation of their fighting ability rather than their actual strength. Furthermore, (1) in contests between two naïve contestants, more than 60 % of fish that were 2–3 mm smaller than their opponent escalated the contest to physical fights, even though their larger opponents eventually won 92 % of escalated fights and (2) fish with a losing experience were very likely to retreat in the face of an opponent 2–3 mm smaller than them without escalating. The result that a 2–3 mm size advantage could not offset the influence of a losing experience on the tendency to escalate suggests that, as well as depending on body size, the fish’s physical strength is influenced by other factors which require further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1183-1193
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Nov 1


  • Animal contest
  • Behavioral decisions
  • Kryptolebias marmoratus
  • Size difference
  • Winner–loser effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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