Animals frequently overcome stressors and the ability to learn and recall these salient experiences is essential to an individual’s survival. As part of an animal’s stress coping style, behavioral and physiological responses to stressors are often consistent across contexts and time. However, we are only beginning to understand how cognitive traits can be biased by different coping styles. Here we investigate learning and memory differences in zebrafish (Danio rerio) displaying proactive and reactive stress coping styles. We assessed learning rate and memory duration using an associative fear conditioning paradigm that trained zebrafish to associate a context with exposure to a natural olfactory alarm cue. Our results show that both proactive and reactive zebrafish learn and remember this fearful association. However, we note significant interaction effects between stress coping style and cognition. Zebrafish with the reactive stress coping style acquired the fear memory at a significantly faster rate than proactive fish. While both stress coping styles showed equal memory recall one day post-conditioning, reactive zebrafish showed significantly stronger recall of the conditioned context relative to proactive fish four days post-conditioning. Through understanding how stress coping strategies promote biases in processing salient information, we gain insight into mechanisms that can constrain adaptive behavioral responses.
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