Previous winning experience increases the probability of winning a subsequent contest. However, it is not clear whether winning probability is affected only by the outcome of the contest (winning or losing) or whether fighting experience itself is also sufficient to induce this effect. We investigated this question in the East African cichlid fish Pundamilia spec. To create an unresolved conflict we allowed males to fight their own mirror image prior to a real fight against a size-matched non-mirror-stimulated control male. When males fight their own mirror image, the image's response corresponds to the action of the focal animal, creating symmetrical fighting conditions without the experience of losing or winning. We found that mirror-stimulated males were more likely to win an ensuing contest than control males. Interestingly, in this species mirror stimulation also induced an increase in circulating androgens, which is consistent with the hypothesis that stimulation of these sex steroids during aggressive encounters may prepare the animal for subsequent encounters. Our results suggest that fighting experience alone coupled with an androgen response, increases the likelihood of winning, even in the absence of a winning experience.
- Challenge hypothesis
- Winner effect