Perception and discrimination of movement and biological motion patterns in fish

Anim Cogn. 2015 Sep;18(5):1077-91. doi: 10.1007/s10071-015-0876-y. Epub 2015 May 17.


Vision is of primary importance for many fish species, as is the recognition of movement. With the exception of one study, assessing the influence of conspecific movement on shoaling behaviour, the perception of biological motion in fish had not been studied in a cognitive context. The aim of the present study was therefore to assess the discrimination abilities of two teleost species in regard to simple and complex movement patterns of dots and objects, including biological motion patterns using point and point-light displays (PDs and PLDs). In two-alternative forced-choice experiments, in which choosing the designated positive stimulus was food-reinforced, fish were first tested in their ability to distinguish the video of a stationary black dot on a light background from the video of a moving black dot presented at different frequencies and amplitudes. While all fish succeeded in learning the task, performance declined with decreases in either or both parameters. In subsequent tests, cichlids and damselfish distinguished successfully between the videos of two dots moving at different speeds and amplitudes, between two moving dot patterns (sinus vs. expiring sinus) and between animated videos of two moving organisms (trout vs. eel). Transfer tests following the training of the latter showed that fish were unable to identify the positive stimulus (trout) by means of its PD alone, thereby indicating that the ability of humans to spontaneously recognize an organism based on its biological motion may not be present in fish. All participating individuals successfully discriminated between two PDs and two PLDs after a short period of training, indicating that biological motions presented in form of PLDs are perceived and can be distinguished. Results were the same for the presentation of dark dots on a light background and light dots on a dark background.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Motion Perception*
  • Perciformes / physiology*
  • Video Recording
  • Visual Perception*