Victoria Braithwaite

Victoria Braithwaite

Main Content

Professor of Fisheries and Biology

410 Forest Resources Building
Penn State University
University Park

University Park, PA PA 16802
Phone: (814) 865-4675


  1. Ph.D., University of Oxford, United Kingdom, 1993
  2. B.A, Oxford University, United Kingdom, 1988

Honors and Awards

  1. Harbaugh Faculty Scholar, 2014
  2. Bellis Award, Ecology, 2010
  3. Visiting Professor Fellowship, Bergen University, Norway, 2008-11
  4. Fisheries Society of the British Isles Medal, 2006
  5. Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation, 2005

Research Interests

Animal Perception, Learning, and Memory


Variation in Learning and Memory Ability: The Role of Predation Pressure and Other Ecological Variables

How do different ecological pressures affect animal learning and memory abilities? Our investigations use factors such as predation pressure or the relative stability of the local environment to determine what shapes cognition and temperament in different natural populations. Our studies use within-species comparisons and rearing in controlled environments to determine factors underpinning individual differences in cognition and behavior. Much of our work uses various species of fish to address these issues.


Pain Perception, Fear, and Suffering in Fish

Do fish have a capacity to detect tissue-damaging stimuli and if they do, can the fish perceive such stimuli as painful? We have shown that fish possess a nociceptive system, a system that consists of specialized nerve fibers that mammals and birds use to detect noxious stimuli. We also have found that fish experiencing noxious stimuli are cognitively impaired, but this impairment can be reversed if the fish are provided with pain relief. We currently are using fish cognition as a tool to investigate whether fish suffer. Our work aims to determine what types of welfare measures might be appropriate for fish held in captivity for aquaculture or in research establishments.


Effects of Variable Rearing Environments on the Development of Behavior in Hatchery-Reared Fish

Over the last few years concerted efforts have been made to bolster threatened fish populations through the managed release of hatchery-reared individuals. While hatcheries provide a safe and productive growing environment, they do little to prepare fish for life in naturally variable wild environments. We have been investigating how to introduce elements of variability into the hatchery environment to promote behavioral flexibility and increase survival in hatchery-reared fish that are released into the wild.


Unpredictable stress during adolescence

We have begun to use rodent models to  explore the effects of exposure to stressors specifically during adolescence. As this is a particularly sensitive time of life where the stress response system matures and specific regions in the brain undergo considerable change, stressors experienced during this time could be expected to generate long-term consequences for the adult phenotype. We are investigating the development of adult decision making, coping response, and cognitive bias in rodents that have experienced chronic unpredictable stress during adolescence.

Selected Publications

Chaby, L., Cavigelli, S. A., White, A., Wang, K. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2013) Long-term changes in cognitive bias and coping response as a result of chronic unpredictable stress during adolescence. Frontiers in Neuroscience 7, 328, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00328. 

Salvanes, A. G. V., Moberg, O., Ebbesson, L. O. E., Nilsen, T.O., Jensen, K. H. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2013) Environmental enrichment promotes neural plasticity and cognitive behaviour in fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B. 280, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1331

Grassie, C., Braithwaite, V. A., Nilsson, J., Nilsen, T. O., Teien, H-C., Handeland, S. O., Stefansson, S. O., Tronci, V. M. Gorissen, G. Flik & Ebbesson, L. O. E. (2013) Aluminum exposure impacts brain plasticity and behavior in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) Journal of Experimental Biology  doi:10.1242/jeb.083550

Braithwaite, V. A., Huntingford, F. A. & van den Bos, R. (2013) Variation in emotion and cognition among fishes. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 26: 7-23

Ebbesson, L. O. E. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2012) Environmental impacts on fish neural plasticity and cognition. Journal of Fish Biology 81: 2151-2174.

Archard, G. A., Earley, R. L., Hanninen, A. F. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2012) Correlated behaviour and stress physiology in fish exposed to different levels of predation pressure. Functional Ecology 26: 637-645.

Folkedal, O., Stien, L.H., Torgersen, T., Oppedal, F., Olsen, R.E., Fosseidengen, J.E., Braithwaite, V.A. & Kristiansen, T.S. (2012) Food anticipatory behaviour as an indicator of stress response and recovery in Atlantic salmon post-smolt after exposure to acute temperature fluctuation. Physiology & Behavior 105: 350-356.

Eriksen, M. S., G. Færevik, S. Kittilsen, M. I. McCormick, B. O. Braastad, B. Damsgård, V. A. Braithwaite, and M. Bakken. 2011. Stressed mothers-troubled offspring? A study of behavioural maternal effects in farmed Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar. Journal of Fish Biology 79: 575-586.

Salvanes, A. G. V., A. C. Utne-Palm, B. Currie, and V. A. Braithwaite. 2011 Strategies underpinning diel vertical migration of the bearded goby Sufflogobius bibarbatus in an extreme environment. Marine Ecology Progress Series 425: 193-202.

Utne-Palm, A. C., A. G. V. Salvanes, B. Currie, S. Kaartvedt, G. E. Nilsson, V. A. Braithwaite, et al. 2010. Trophic structure and community stability in an overfished ecosystem. Science 329: 333-336.

Braithwaite, V. A. and A. G. V. Salvanes. 2010. Aquaculture and restocking: implications for conservation and welfare. Animal Welfare 19: 139-149.

Braithwaite, V. A. 2010. Do Fish Feel Pain? Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Heenan, A., S. D. Simpson, M. G. Meekan, S. D. Healy, and V. A. Braithwaite. 2009. Restoring depleted coral reef fish populations through recruitment enhancement: a proof of concept. Journal of Fish Biology 75: 1857-1867.

Magnhagen, C., V. A. Braithwaite, E. Forsgren, and B. G. Kapoor. 2008. Fish Behaviour. Science Publishers, New Hampshire, United States.

Brydges, N. M., N. Colegrave, R. Heathcote, and V. A. Braithwaite. 2008. Habitat stability and predation pressure affect behavioural traits in populations of three-spined sticklebacks. Journal of Animal Ecology 77: 229-235.

Braithwaite, V. A. and P. Boulcott. 2007. Pain perception and fear in fish. Diseases in Aquatic Organisms 75: 131-138.

Brown, C., J. Western, and V. A. Braithwaite. 2007. The influence of early experience and inheritance of cerebral lateralization. Animal Behaviour 74: 231-238.

For a full list of publications go to: