A Lesson in Cooperation…from Fish

Via a recent news piece from Nature, I learned that the behavioral science field is abuzz with findings from a study by Redouan Bshary, who studies mutualism. Essentially, Bshary has found that fish intelligence is on par with those of primates when it comes to cooperation and regulating cooperative behavior by punishing those who cheat. This challenges that previous notion that primates are at the top of the social intelligence pyramid, and establishes fish as cognitively badass.

To summarize, predator fish in coral reef environments hunt together, exhibiting cooperative behavior. “Cleaner” fish, who gobble up parasites off the backs of “client” fish can sometimes do a poor job, resulting in punishment that entails being chased by the clients. Cleaners then reconcile by giving clients massages!! Sounds like pretty sophisticated social behavior to me.

Activists can use this information to lobby for an expansion of human ethics to include fish. Indeed, we can be mindful the next time we see fish on the menu. Do you really want to support the killing and eating of that intelligent relative?

 

The coral reef ecosystem is home to fish who cooperate, cheat, punish, and reconcile in displays of cognitively advanced behavior, according to recent research.

The coral reef ecosystem is home to fish who cooperate, cheat, punish, and reconcile in displays of cognitively advanced behavior, according to recent research.

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