Skip to main content

Stress axis programming generates long-term effects on cognitive abilities in a cooperative breeder

Cite this dataset

Reyes Contreras, Maria; Taborsky, Barbara (2022). Stress axis programming generates long-term effects on cognitive abilities in a cooperative breeder [Dataset]. Dryad.


The ability to flexibly adjust behaviour to social and non-social challenges is important for successfully navigating variable environments. Social competence, i.e., adaptive behavioural flexibility in the social domain, allows individuals to optimize their expression of social behaviour. Behavioural flexibility outside the social domain aids in coping with ecological challenges. However, it is unknown if social and non-social behavioural flexibility share common underlying cognitive mechanisms. Support for such shared mechanism would be provided if the same neural mechanisms in the brain affected social and non-social behavioural flexibility similarly. We used individuals of the cooperatively-breeding fish Neolamprologus pulcher that had undergone early-life programming of the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal (HPI) axis by exposure to (i) cortisol, (ii) the glucocorticoid-receptor antagonist mifepristone or (iii) control treatments, and where effects of stress-axis programming on social flexibility occurred. One year after the treatments, adults learned a colour-discrimination task, and subsequently, a reversal-learning task testing for behavioural flexibility. Early-life mifepristone treatment only marginally affected learning performance, whereas cortisol treatment significantly reduced behavioural flexibility. Thus, early-life cortisol treatment reduced both social and non-social behavioural flexibility, suggesting a shared cognitive basis of behavioural flexibility. Further our findings imply that early-life stress programming affects the ability of organisms to flexibly cope with environmental stressors.


Swiss National Science Foundation, Award: 31003A_179208