Franks, B., Gaffney, L. P., Graham, C. et al. 2023. Curiosity in zebrafish (Danio rerio)? Behavioral responses to 30 novel objects. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 9, 1062420.

Curiosity—the motivation to seek out information—has been studied widely across the animal kingdom. To investigate curiosity in zebrafish we presented 30 novel objects to groups of zebrafish housed in semi-naturalistic tanks (6 tanks; 10 fish/tank; 10-min presentations). During the first 100 s and final 100 s of each object’s 10-min presentation period, we recorded each group’s: (i) latency to approach the object, (ii) attraction to the object, (iii) social dynamics: agonistic behavior and group cohesion and coordination, and (iv) diving behavior, a stress response in zebrafish. Comparing these behaviors to a 100 s baseline period when no object was present, we tested for neophobia (avoidance of novelty), neophilia (overall attraction to novelty), sustained interest (prolonged attraction to at least some presentations), discriminant interest (certain objects eliciting more attention than others), habituation (loss of interest over time), and alterations to social and stress behaviors. Zebrafish groups readily approached all objects (1 s median latency), were neophilic throughout all object presentations, and showed systematic sustained interest only for some object presentations at the beginning of the study (object presentations 1–10). Over the course of the study, zebrafish also showed signs of habituation such that by the final ten object presentations (21-30), there were no signs of overall sustained interest. During the beginning of the study (object presentations 1–10), we also found evidence for specific object-driven interest, with object ID accounting for 11% of the variability in interest scores (p < 0.01), and object-driven interest corresponding to alterations in social behavior: decreased aggression (p < 0.02), increased group cohesion (p < 0.02), and increased group coordination (p < 0.05). By explicitly investigating curiosity in fish, this work reveals that under certain conditions, zebrafish voluntarily engage in cognitive stimulation opportunities. More work is needed to clarify what types of information zebrafish find most rewarding and how long-term exposure to such opportunities may affect fish welfare.

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