Winner and loser effects are modulated by hormonal states

Ryan L. Earley, Chung Kai Lu, I. Han Lee, Stephanie C. Wong, Yuying Hsu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Many animals use information acquired from recent experiences to modify their responses to new situations. Animals' decisions in contests also depend on their previous experience: after recent victories individuals tend to behave more aggressively and after defeats more submissively. Although these winner and/or loser effects have been reported for animals of different taxa, they have only recently been shown to be flexible traits, which can be influenced by extrinsic factors. In a mangrove killifish (Kryptolebias marmoratus), for instance, individuals which lost an earlier contest were more likely than others to alter contest decisions after a recent win/loss. This result suggests that individuals perceiving themselves to have worse fighting abilities are more inclined to adjust contest strategy based on new information. If this is the case, an individual's propensity to modify behaviour after a win/loss might also be modulated by intrinsic mechanisms related to its ability to fight. Stress and sex steroid hormones are often associated with an individual's contest behaviour and performance, so, in this study, we tested the hypothesis that an individual's propensity to change behaviour after wins or losses also depends on its hormonal state.Results: Our results show that an individual's propensity to adjust contest decisions after wins and losses does depend on its hormonal state: individuals with lower levels of cortisol (F), testosterone (T) and 11-ketotestosterone (KT) are more receptive than others to the influence of recent contest experiences, especially losing experiences, and the influences last longer. Furthermore, although winning and losing experiences resulted in significant changes in behaviour, they did not bring about a significant change in the levels of F, T, KT or oestradiol (E2).Conclusions: This study shows that an individual's receptivity to the influence of recent wins and losses is modulated by its internal state, as well as by extrinsic factors. Individuals with hormonal profiles corresponding to lower aggressiveness and a reduced likelihood of winning were more likely to alter contest decisions after a recent win/loss. The results also suggest that F, T, KT and E2 are not the primary physiological mechanisms mediating winner-loser effects in this fish.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Feb 11


  • 11-ketotestosterone
  • Animal contest
  • Cortisol
  • Information
  • Kryptolebias marmoratus
  • Oestradiol
  • Testosterone
  • Winner-loser effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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