Glucocorticoids do not promote prosociality in a wild group-living fish

Publication Name

Hormones and Behavior


Individuals often respond to social disturbances by increasing prosociality, which can strengthen social bonds, buffer against stress, and promote overall group cohesion. Given their importance in mediating stress responses, glucocorticoids have received considerable attention as potential proximate regulators of prosocial behaviour during disturbances. However, previous investigations have largely focused on mammals and our understanding of the potential prosocial effects of glucocorticoids across vertebrates more broadly is still lacking. Here, we assessed whether experimentally elevated glucocorticoid levels (simulating endogenous cortisol responses mounted following disturbances) promote prosocial behaviours in wild groups of the cichlid fish, Neolamprologus pulcher. Using SCUBA in Lake Tanganyika, we observed how subordinate group members adjusted affiliation, helping, and submission (all forms of prosocial behaviour) following underwater injections of either cortisol or saline. Cortisol treatment reduced affiliative behaviours—but only in females—suggesting that glucocorticoids may reduce overall prosociality. Fish with elevated glucocorticoid levels did not increase performance of submission or helping behaviours. Taken together, our results do not support a role for glucocorticoids in promoting prosocial behaviour in this species and emphasize the complexity of the proximate mechanisms that underlie prosociality.

Open Access Status

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Funding Sponsor

National Science Foundation



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