Addiction and Displacement Theory Presentation 7

More on the inquiries into what kind of fish might behave like the Slide 14 subject. There is a type that acts in a certain way:

Male stickleback fish stand on their heads and dig into the sand as if building a nest when the impulses of attack and retreat are evenly balanced…

The description of the Slide 14 action was that the male engaged in displacement behavior — bouncing on his head — because of inner conflict over whether to perform a reproductive act. (Dropping a load of sperm into a nest does not seem like that big of a deal, really, and certainly not worth dying over.)

But the whole basis of his psychological conflict was that if he messed around with her, she would kill him. So, maybe he should flee instead. But again, why? Since female sticklebacks do not murder their baby daddies, it seems like, as the stars of that drama, the species would be ruled out. Another source says that sticklebacks exhibit

[…] out-of-context displacement activity. When at the boundary between its own territory and that of another stickleback, where both attack and escape behaviors are elicited, inappropriate nest-building behavior is often displayed.

A stickleback makes a nest on the sea floor, so he just might stand on his head and dig into the sand, even if a human calls it “bouncing.” But Slide 14 wasn’t about a male-on-male territorial dispute. The scenario was introduced as one in which a lady was ready and waiting to consummate a relationship. For a stickleback, that would mean she deposits eggs in his nest, and then says, “Bye, have fun raising the kids.” And he is so there for it! Not exactly an existential crisis, or an occasion suitable for frantic displacement activity.

Some stickleback lore

Behaviorist pioneer Niko Tinbergen liked working with sticklebacks. In the wild, apparently, the males are very aggressive. They compete for territory, and for dates. To the female, red equals hot. Here is a small snippet of Gregory F. Grether’s fascinating discourse about her preference:

In most populations of three-spined stickleback, females prefer males with red coloration, and this is a condition-dependent trait that reflects variation among males in parental care and parasite resistance.

In other words, a red throat is a stellar résumé and a winning recommendation letter. Armed with those, the male builds a nest from weeds stuck together with a secretion from his kidneys. He likes a gal who is bigger than him and has a bulging stomach, which means bigger eggs. He attracts a likely prospect with a courtship dance, and if that goes well, they enjoy a piscine equivalent of foreplay, which a bold female will sometimes even initiate.

(To be continued!)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Displacement activity,”, undated
Source: “English Dream,”, 08/27/2020
Source: “The Evolution of Mate Preferences, Sensory Biases, and Indicator Traits,”, 2010
Image by M Krijnsen/Public Domain

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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