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Are You More Impulsive Than a Fish?

Explore the factors that lead to impulsivity, a known factor in drug addiction, through an interactive experiment looking at the behaviour of Zebrafish.

  • School/Institute/Department: School of Biological and Chemical Sciences
  • Subjects: Biology, Genetics, Life Sciences
  • Audience: KS3, KS4, KS5, General Public, Families

In an interactive display at the 2013 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, staff from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences brought in real Zebrafish to demonstrate their research using impulsivity tests to inform treatments for addiction.  

In humans, impulsive behaviour has been linked with addiction. This interactive display showed how studying impulsiveness in Zebrafish can help to develop ways of identifying the genes that predict whether people will develop these ‘risk behaviours’ and how this can improve treatment. At the stall, visitors were able to view the experiment first hand and explore the meanings of the research themselves alongside the scientists involved in the research.

The experiment on display conditioned Zebrafish to expect a reward when they correctly entered a chamber signified with a yellow light, then sought to discover whether the fish can wait before it swims into one of the chambers. The prediction being that if fish are capable of being impulsive (like humans and other animals) those watching should see differences in the Zebrafish’s willingness/ ability to wait if the delay time before the lights came on was increased.

Once the fish with impulsive characteristics are identified, scientists can look for the differences in the genetic code that lead to these behaviours and apply this to humans, with Zebrafish sharing many of our genetic traits. These can then be used to create tailored treatment for addition to substances such as tobacco and drugs by targeting the genes that lead to risk behaviours.

The experiment and display have been recorded in the team’s blog, on youtube, and can be seen on the Royal Society’s website.

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