Mechanisms of social buffering of fear in zebrafish

Sci Rep. 2017 Mar 31;7:44329. doi: 10.1038/srep44329.


Some humans thrive whereas others resign when exposed to threatening situations throughout life. Social support has been identified as an important modulator of these discrepancies in human behaviour, and other social animals also exhibit phenomena in which individuals recover better from aversive events when conspecifics are present - aka social buffering. Here we studied social buffering in zebrafish, by exposing focal fish to an aversive stimulus (alarm substance - AS) either in the absence or presence of conspecific cues. When exposed to AS in the presence of both olfactory (shoal water) and visual (sight of shoal) conspecific cues, focal fish exhibited a lower fear response than when tested alone, demonstrating social buffering in zebrafish. When separately testing each cue's effectiveness, we verified that the visual cue was more effective than the olfactory in reducing freezing in a persistent threat scenario. Finally, we verified that social buffering was independent of shoal size and coincided with a distinct pattern of co-activation of brain regions known to be involved in mammalian social buffering. Thus, this study suggests a shared evolutionary origin for social buffering in vertebrates, bringing new evidence on the behavioural, sensory and neural mechanisms underlying this phenomenon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Freezing Reaction, Cataleptic / physiology*
  • Male
  • Social Environment*
  • Video Recording
  • Zebrafish / physiology*