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Theoreticians predict that animal ‘personality’ traits may be maladaptive if fixed throughout different contexts, so the present study aimed to test whether these traits are fixed or plastic. Rainbow trout (Onchorhyncus mykiss) were given emboldening or negative experiences in the forms of watching bold or shy individuals responding to novelty or winning or losing fights to examine whether prior experience affected boldness. Bold individuals that lost fights or watched shy demonstrators became more shy by increasing their latency to approach a novel object, whereas shy observers that watched bold demonstrators remained cautious and did not modify their responses to novelty. Shy winners became bolder and decreased their latency to approach a novel object, but shy losers also displayed this shift. In comparison, control groups showed no change in behaviour. Bold fishes given negative experiences reduced their boldness which may be an adaptive response; however, shy fishes may base their strategic decisions upon self-assessment of their relative competitive ability and increase their boldness in situations where getting to resources more quickly ensures they outcompete better competitors.


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