Drunk Fish Make Sober Ones Act Differently

Written by on June 9, 2014 in Fish, Marine Life

Drunk fish make sober ones act differently.

In a unique study on the “complex interplay” between alcohol and social behavior, researchers from the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering decided to focus on animals much simpler than humans: zebrafish.


Zebrafish. Photo credit: Azul, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Typical alcohol-behavior studies focus on groups of alcohol-exposed subjects, but this study was different because it examined the behavior of a single drunk subject amid sober peers.

The researchers, led by Maurizio Porfiri, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the school’s Dynamical Systems Laboratory, believed they would see the single drunk fish behave differently based on the presence or absence of sober peers, but that’s not what they found.

The researchers exposed a single zebrafish to different concentrations of alcohol and found, consistent with previous studies, that it affects zebrafish locomotion. At low concentrations, the fish swim faster, but they slow down as alcohol concentration increases.

In this new study, researchers found that when a single drunk zebrafish was allowed to swim freely with sober shoalmates, its swimming speed nearly doubled, suggesting that the presence of other fish had a “substantial impact” on social behavior under the influence of alcohol.

What surprised the researchers, however, was that the sober zebrafish also changed their behavior and swimming speed in the presence of the drunk fish.

“These results were very surprising,” Porfiri explained in a news release. “It is clear that the untreated fish were matching the swimming speed of the alcohol-exposed fish, and this correlation was especially strong at an intermediate level of alcohol exposure.”

This was the first study that demonstrated how the impact of alcohol on behavior in zebrafish can be shaped by social environments, which has much bigger implications. These findings highlight the impact that social stimuli can have on an individual’s response to alcohol and could advance our understanding of how social interactions impact alcohol abuse.

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Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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