Today’s star: the African cichlid fish, whose women prefer the fishy equivalent of Russell Crowe over, say, the wilting Hugh Grant.
Researchers found that females’ brains showed signs of high anxiety after watching their chosen mate lose a fight. Watching their man-fish win a fight, however, lit up the parts of the brain associated with reproduction and pleasure.
Here’s the somewhat baffling conclusion by lead researcher Julie Desjardins:
It is the same as if a woman were dating a boxer and saw her potential mate get the crap beat out of him really badly … she may not consciously say to herself, “Oh, I’m not attracted to this guy anymore because he’s a loser.” But her feelings might change anyhow.
The study involved splitting fish tanks into three compartments. Fish couples were given time to bond each day and then the male fish was presented with another male challenger while his potential mate looked on. After the territorial dispute ended, the researchers analyzed the female cichlids’ brain activity.
“I was extremely surprised by how large a difference in brain activity we were able to measure,” said Desjardins.
So what does this have to do with us? Well, according to the researchers, “the brain areas involved in the cichlid’s response are similar and perform comparable functions in humans, fish, and in fact all other vertebrates.” The only difference could be the way in which the competition plays out in the human world.
In humans the subconscious change could result from failure in any competitive situation, such as losing a game or failing to get a promotion, not just physical violence.
Desjardins’ team’s next step is to see if the disappointed females will spurn their previously loved loser and mate with the victor. (Next week: broken-hearted fish flooding fish bars to complain to fish bartenders about their fish exes.)