Royal Society Publishing

The costs of hemispheric specialization in a fish

Marco Dadda , Eugenia Zandonà , Christian Agrillo , Angelo Bisazza


Laboratory and field studies have documented better cognitive performance associated with marked hemispheric specialization in organisms as diverse as chimpanzees, domestic chicks and topminnows. While providing an evolutionary explanation for the emergence of cerebral lateralization, this evidence represents a paradox because a large proportion of non-lateralized (NL) individuals is commonly observed in animal populations. Hemispheric specialization often determines large left–right differences in perceiving and responding to stimuli. Using topminnows selected for a high or low degree of lateralization, we tested the hypothesis that individuals with greater functional asymmetry pay a higher performance cost in situations requiring matching information from the two eyes. When trained to use the middle door in a row of a nine, NL fish correctly chose the central door in most cases, while lateralized fish showed systematic leftward or rightward biases. When choosing between two shoals, each seen with a different eye, NL fish chose the high-quality shoal significantly more often than the lateralized fish, whose performance was affected by eye preference for analysing social stimuli. These findings suggest the existence of a trade-off between computational advantages of hemispheric specialization and the ecological cost of making suboptimal decisions whenever relevant information is located on both sides of the body.


    • Received August 10, 2009.
    • Accepted September 3, 2009.
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