Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Something's Fishy Here...

For a while, everybody knew -- well, everybody who happened to be interested in the mating behavior of a fish known as the Atlantic Molly -- that when a male molly knows that another male is watching him, he will lose interest in mating with a female molly.

Well, the study that led to that conclusion wasn't exactly perfect, since the fish weren't even allowed to come into contact with each other. So, more scientists set out to corroborate the idea.

Their better-constructed set of circumstances led them to a different conclusion, however: the presence of a competitor male will cause the first male to feign interest in a less appealing female, and since the fish will pay attention to what the others are doing, the ploy is to lead the competitor away from the female the first male actually wants.

Now, who among us hasn't done something similar? It doesn't have to involve sex; it could be at an auction or second-hand shop, a bit of deception to get someone away from that prized item you really want.

Still, the scientists were surprised. "I find it particularly interesting that fish are capable of such a sophisticated behavior," said Martin Plath of the University of Potsdam in Germany and the University of Oklahoma.

Well, it's been there. Unnatural surroundings and contrived circumstances may have prevented people from observing it, however. I guess it's surprising to them because from a strict evolutionary point of view, such deceptive behavior would not persist--it would select for fish that didn't pay attention to what the other fish are doing.

Noticing what others are doing and copying their behavior is an important aspect of any society. It allows what one has learned to benefit others. Knowing that others will copy you and deliberately trying to "fake them out" requires a good deal of logic. And even the superficially simple act of copying another's actions requires a great deal of mental processing.

But while this new example by the fish did seem to startle the scientists, it was not enough to shake them from their deeply held beliefs. Plath also said:
"The study highlights that traits that we typically ascribe to humans only can also be found in other, seemingly simpler animals and that no consciousness or self-awareness is needed for a behavior like deception to occur."
*sigh* What we really need is a study to show why supposedly smart people would want to leave logic behind and jump off to a conclusion like that.

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