What if folks can tell when you lie?

In the era of alternative facts and post-truth, fish police the liars


Princess of Burundi Cichlid, copyright by Max Strandberg

When some fish display their anger, their pals can tell when they’re lying.

A study of Cichlids—a common freshwater fish you can find in your local pet store—showed that male and female fish display aggression with bright colors on their faces.

Researchers say that taking the trouble to display anger is costly to the fish, so “bright colors must honestly signal a healthy and high-quality individual,” says science writer Sacha Vignieri in the November 17 issue of Science Magazine.

In other words, it takes a toll on the fish to signal aggression.

But what if the fish are bluffing?

Scientists led by Judith Bachmann at the University of Basel in Switzerland manipulated aggressive coloring in Cichlids and found that “dishonest” fish (those for whom scientists “faked” aggression by changing their coloring) were punished by their neighbors.

Fish who lied were battered by others, signaling a sort of social policing in Princess of Burundi Cichlids.

Just imagine if folks we empower to make decisions that affect us turned a bright color when they lie: how we would react?











About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in aggression, american indian, truthiness and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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