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Give zebrafish some booze, and they stop fearing robots

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August 1, 2013

This robotic leaf fish may not look scary to you, but then you're not a zebrafish

This robotic leaf fish may not look scary to you, but then you're not a zebrafish

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With some help from a robotic fish, scientists have discovered that zebrafish are much like humans in at least one way – they get reckless when they get drunk. OK, “drunk” might not be technically accurate, but when exposed to alcohol, the fish show no fear of a robotic version of one of their natural predators, the Indian leaf fish. When they’re “sober,” they avoid the thing like crazy. The researchers believe that the experiments indicate a promising future for robots in behavioral studies.

The experiments were aimed at studying the effects of alcohol on fear responses, and carried out by scientists at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) and Italy’s Istituto Superiore di Sanità.

Initially, groups of zebrafish (zebra danios, commonly used in labs) were placed in one section of an aquarium divided into three compartments. When the robotic leaf fish was placed in one of the other compartments, looking and moving like its biological counterpart, the zebrafish all tried to get away from it by swimming towards the empty compartment.

Subsequently, varying amounts of ethanol were added to the water in the zebrafishs’ compartment – according to the scientists, doing so doesn't harm the animals. It was found that the group of fish exposed to the highest level of ethanol made no attempt to evade the robot. This apparently meshes with the results of other experiments, in which the fear responses of humans, rodents and other types of fish were dulled by ethanol.

The 'drunk' zebrafish also showed little response to a facsimile of another one of their p...

The "drunk" zebrafish also showed little response to a facsimile of another one of their predators, the heron

In previous studies, zebrafish were shown to be attracted to robotic replicas of their own species (the same thing has been noted with stickleback fish). The introduction of ethanol likewise diminished this behavior – it seems almost as if alcohol simply causes the fish to not care, one way or the other.

The scientists are pleased with the results of the study. “These results are further evidence that robots may represent an exciting new approach in evaluating and understanding emotional responses and behavior,” said NYU-Poly’s Prof. Maurizo Porfiri, one of the two co-leaders of the project. “Robots are ideal replacements as independent variables in tests involving social stimuli – they are fully controllable, stimuli can be reproduced precisely each time, and robots can never be influenced by the behavior of the test subjects.”

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: NYU-Poly

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
4 Comments

Ok zebrafish are passive drunks so am I. What great meaning do they expect to get from this?

Slowburn
1st August, 2013 @ 04:08 pm PDT

Perhaps a few shots of Jack Daniels gives the fish heightened powers of observation--they see the robot for what it is, a fake.

Jack Daniels and I have observed a lot of things in a new light many times in our long friendship.

Guy Macher
2nd August, 2013 @ 03:49 am PDT

one shot of vodka and I feel relaxed

two shots I feel strong

three shots of vodka and I become a super athlete

four shots of vodka I am invulnerable

five shots of vodka and I am invisible

looks like it goes across species lines

science ninja
2nd August, 2013 @ 09:57 am PDT

So you can use robots to study anything as long as you get the test subjects inebriated first? Not sure what they were trying to prove here.

I read this: "“Robots are ideal replacements as independent variables in tests involving social stimuli – they are fully controllable, stimuli can be reproduced precisely each time, and robots can never be influenced by the behavior of the test subjects.” It makes perfect sense, but what was the point of giving the fish alcohol?

If you have to "alter" the test subject to make it accepting of the observer, can you claim your results are accurate?

Andre QuinntheEskimo Rodriguez
2nd August, 2013 @ 10:08 am PDT
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