Christine Maher Ph.D.
male aggression, fish, female audience
The audience effect refers to a situation where individuals alter displays in the presence of bystanders. By changing display choice, displayers can optimize their effectiveness against both the opponent and audience. Many displays – territorial, aggressive, warning, and threatening – fall into the broad category of agonistic behavior. Male Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens) are known for being territorial, and they use the same set of stereotypical displays repeatedly from one male to the next. I observed effects of a female audience on male Betta displays to determine if males use certain displays more frequently than others when a female is present versus absent. I predicted that, in order to court a female audience and still defend his territory, males increase the frequency of showy displays, whereas males use aggressive displays more frequently when no audience is present. To test my predictions, I continuously recorded the frequency of each display type between males in the presence and absence of females. Males significantly increased the proportion of showy displays used with a female audience present as well as substantially decreased aggressive displays, suggesting that males alter display frequencies in the presence of an audience. The presence of a female audience strongly influences display choice in males, suggesting a trade-off between courting a female and defending a territory.
Lück, Raisa, "A female audience increases frequency of showy agonistic displays in male Siamese fighting fish" (2014). Thinking Matters Symposium Archive. 15.