Executive functions and brain morphology of male and female dominant and subordinate cichlid fish

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.3484. This is version 1 of this Preprint.

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Angelo Guadagno, Zegni Triki 


Living in a social dominance hierarchy presents different benefits and challenges for dominant and subordinate males and females, which might in turn affect their cognitive needs. Despite the extensive research on social dominance in group-living species, there is still a knowledge gap regarding how social status impacts brain development and cognitive abilities. Here, we tested male and female dominants and subordinates of Neolamprologus pulcher, a social cichlid fish species with size-based hierarchy. We ran three executive cognitive function tests for cognitive flexibility (reversal learning test), self-control (detour test), and working memory (object permanence test), followed by brain and brain region sizes measurements. Performance was not influenced by social status or sex. However, dominants displayed a more pronounced brain-body slope. Also, individual performance in reversal learning and detour tests correlated with brain morphology, with some trade-offs among major brain regions like telencephalon, cerebellum and mesencephalon. As individuals' brain growth strategies varied depending on social status without affecting executive functions, the different associated challenges might yield a potential effect on social cognition instead. Overall, the findings highlight the importance of studying the individual and not just species to understand better how the individual’s ecology might shape its brain and cognition.




Life Sciences


cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, object permanence, working memory, associative learning, social pressures, size-based hierarchy., Inhibitory control, Object permanence, working memory, associative learning, reversal learning, social pressures, size-based hierachy


Published: 2023-11-16 01:44


CC-BY Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data and Code Availability Statement:
Source data and code from this study will be made available upon peer-reviewed publication.