Social behavior

Social interaction is a prominent field of interest for research on fish. Most of these studies have one thing in common: behaviors need to be observed with high detail in quickly moving animals. And that is exactly why The Observer® XT is the perfect tool for your research: detailed behaviors are easily scored in as much detail as you need.

Social interaction studies in fish include topics such as sexual selection mechanisms, effects of rearing conditions in intensively-kept farm fish, and relationships in complex breeding species. Some studies use a set-up with multiple animals within one aquarium, while others use adjacent aquaria to investigate social interaction while preventing physical contact. No matter what your set-up looks like, The Observer XT will make scoring and analyzing the behaviors more fun and efficient.

Start with an ethogram

One of the most crucial steps in your research includes setting up your coding scheme (ethogram). With The Observer XT you can easily define the subjects and behaviors you are interested in. For example, create groups of behaviors to investigate the differences in courtship behavior between different species. Do so by grouping ‘chase’ and ‘bite’ as ‘aggressive courtship behaviors’ and ‘zigzag’ and ‘lead’ as ‘display oriented courtship behaviors’.


Score live or from video

When you are dealing with quickly moving animals, it is often important to score in some detail. In cases like these, offline scoring might be the most practical method. The advantage is that you can play-back the video at half speed, making detailed scoring a lot easier. The Observer XT also gives you the opportunity to score live, and acquire video at the same time, so you can always look back and check, or score in more detail later on.

Continuous or instantaneous sampling

Another great benefit of The Observer XT is that you can choose between continuous and instantaneous (time) sampling or you can even combine both. It is ideal for when you are scoring a limited amount of behaviors, or when you are observing multiple animals!

Detailed scoring, detailed results 

The Observer XT allows you to analyze your data to different extents: from basic classification to in-depth selection and analysis. It also offers different options for visual and statistical analysis. You can create a pie chart to get an immediate impression of how much of its time your stickleback spent on different social behaviors. Or calculate the difference in biting events between different species. 

results behaviors research fish

Behaviors during certain periods of time

In social interaction research, it is also often important to know what happened during a certain period of time. For instance, you might want to analyze the frequencies and durations of behaviors related to caring for the nest of the female fish while the breeder male was chasing other males away from the nest. With The Observer XT, this is easy to do.

Share the work

Scoring behaviors can be time consuming, especially if you have a lot of observations planned. With The Observer XT Coder Licenses you can share the work. These licenses are cost effective and limit the use of The Observer XT program to scoring and visualization only. After all behaviors are scored, you can collect them in your main project with a full The Observer XT license. Reliability analysis will allow you to exclude observer bias.


Find out more about social behavior research in these blog posts, or read about zebrafish studies on our blog.