Indexed on: 23 Mar '17Published on: 23 Mar '17Published in: Animal cognition
Cerebral lateralization, the partitioning of functions into a certain hemisphere of the brain, is ubiquitous among vertebrates. Evidence suggests that the cognitive processing of a stimulus is performed with a specific hemisphere depending in part upon the emotional valence of the stimulus (i.e. whether it is appetitive or aversive). Recent work has implicated a predominance of right-hemisphere processing for aversive stimuli. In fish with laterally placed eyes, the preference to view an object with a specific eye has been used as a proxy for assessing cerebral lateralization. The habenula, one of the most well-known examples of an asymmetrical neural structure, has been linked to behavioural asymmetry in some fish species. Here, we exposed convict cichlid fish (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) to both a social and non-social lateralization task and assessed behavioural lateralization in either the presence or absence of an aversive stimulus, damage-induced alarm cues. We also assessed whether behavioural asymmetry in these tests was related to asymmetry of the habenular nuclei. We found that when alarm cues were present, fish showed increased left-eye (and by proxy, right hemisphere) preference for stimulus viewing. In addition, females, but not males, showed stronger eye preferences when alarm cues were present. We did not find a relationship between behavioural lateralization and habenular lateralization. Our results conflict with previous reports of concordance between behavioural and habenular lateralization in this fish species. However, our results do provide support for the hypothesis of increased right-hemisphere use when an organism is exposed to aversive stimuli.