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Victoria Braithwaite

Victoria Braithwaite

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The Dorothy and Lloyd Huck Chair in Behavioral Biology

Professor of Fisheries and Biology

410 Forest Resources Building
Penn State University

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


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

Honors and Awards

  1. Fellow, The Linnean Society of London, 2016
  2. Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin, Germany, 2015
  3. Harbaugh Faculty Scholar, 2014
  4. Bellis Award, Ecology, 2010
  5. Professor II, Bergen University, Norway, 2008-11
  6. Fisheries Society of the British Isles Medal, 2006
  7. 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.

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.

How Should we Maintain and Care for Fish in Public Aquaria?

In a new collaboration with the Norwalk Aquarium in Connecticut, we are linking Penn State with the marine environment. This research is investigating which kinds of tank enrichment and other forms of stimulation help different species cope in captive environments that are often busy and noisy with interested aquarium visitors. One aspect currently being addressed is the value of providing more choice, control and predictability to the captive environment. This work is, in part, supported by a donation from Peter and Ann Tombros.

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.

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 assays of fish emotional states and cognition as tools to investigate whether fish suffer from the negative experience of pain. Our work aims to determine what types of welfare measures might be appropriate for fish held in captivity for aquaculture or in research establishments.



Selected Publications

 Keagy, J. Braithwaite, V.A. & Boughman, J. W. (2018) Brain differences in ecologically differentiated sticklebacks. Current Zoology 64: 243-250.

Weary, D. M., Droege, P. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2017) Behavioural evidence of felt emotions: approaches, inferences and refinements. Advances in the Study of Behavior 49: 27-48.

Braithwaite, V. A. (2017) Assessing Fish Welfare. CAB Reviews 12, No. 023 10.1079/PAVSNNR201712023

Maia, C. M., Ferguson, B., Volpato, G. L. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2017) Physical and psychological motivation tests of individual preferences in rainbow trout. Journal of Zoology 302: 108-118.

Ahlbeck Bergendahl, I., Miller, S., DePasquale, C., Giralico, L . & Braithwaite, V. A. (2017) Becoming a better swimmer: structural complexity enhances agility in captive-reared fish. Journal of Fish Biology 90: 1112–1117. DOI: 10.1111/jfb.13232

White, S. L. Wagner, T. Gowan, C. & Braithwaite, V. A.  (2017) Can personality predict individual differences in brook trout spatial learning ability? Behavioural Processes 141:220-228.

Fost, B. A., Ferreri, P. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2016) Behavioral response of brook trout and brown trout to acidification & species interactions. Environmental Biology of Fishes online: DOI 10.1007/s10641-016-0551-4 

DePasquale, C., Neuberger, T., Hirrlinger, A. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2016) The influence of complex and threatening environments in early life on brain size and behavior. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B 283 (1823), 20152564

Ahlbeck Bergendahl, I., Salvanes, A. G. V. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2016) Determining the effects of duration and recency of exposure to environmental enrichment. Applied Animal Behaviour Science doi: 10.1016/ j.applanim.2015.11.002

Chaby, L.E., Sheriff, M. J., Cavigelli, S. A., Hirrlinger, A.M., Lim, J., & Braithwaite, V. A. (2016) Stress during adolescence shapes performance in adulthood: Context-dependent effects on foraging and vigilance. Ethology doi: 10.1111/eth.12463

Braithwaite, V. A. & Droege, P. (2016) Why human pain can’t tell us whether fish feel pain. Animal Sentience. 2016.009

Patton, B.W. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2015) Swimming against the current: ecological and historical perspectives on fish cognition. WIREs Cognitive Science 6:159–176. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1337

Chaby, L.E., Sheriff, M,  Hirrlinger, A.M., Lim, J., Featherston, T., Tian, W. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2015) Does chronic unpredictable stress during adolescence affect spatial cognition in adulthood? PLoS One 10.1371/journal.pone.0141908

Chaby, L.E., Cavigelli, S.A., Hirrlinger, A.M., Lim, J., Warg, K. M., & Braithwaite, V. A. (2015) Chronic stress during adolescence impairs and improves learning and memory in adulthood. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00327

Chaby, L. E., Sheriff, M. J., Hirrlinger, A. M., & Braithwaite, V. A.  (2015) Stress during adolescence improves adult foraging under future threat in rats. Animal Behaviour 105: 37-45.

Mehlhorn, K., Newell, B., Todd, P. M., Lee, M., Morgan, K., Braithwaite, V. A., Hausmann, D., Fiedler, K. & Gonzalez, C. (2015) Unpacking the Exploration–Exploitation Tradeoff: A Synthesis of Human and Animal Literatures. Decision. doi:10.1037/dec0000033

Chaby, L. E., Sheriff, M. J., Hirrlinger, A. M., & Braithwaite, V. A. (2015) Can we understand how developmental stress enhances performance under future threat with the Yerkes-Dodson law? Communicative & Integrative Biology 8:3, e1029689

Brandão, M. L. Braithwaite, V A. & de Freitas, E. G. (2015) Isolation impairs cognition in a social fish. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 171: 204-210.

Chaby, L. E., Cavigelli, S. A., Hirrlinger, A. M., Caruso, M. J., & Braithwaite, V. A. (2015). Chronic unpredictable stress during adolescence causes long-term anxiety. Behavioural Brain Research, 278, 492–495.

Droege, P. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2014) A framework for investigating animal consciousness. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences 19: 79-98.

DePasquale, C., Wagner, T., Archard, G. A., Ferguson, B. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2014) Learning rate and temperament in a high predation risk environment. Oecologia 176: 661–667.

Beri, S., Patton, B. W. & Braithwaite, V. A.  (2014) How ecology shapes prey fish cognition. Behavioural Processes 109:190-194.

dos Santos, M. Braithwaite, V. A. & Wedekind, C. (2014) Exposure to superfluous information reduces cooperation and increases antisocial punishment in reputation-based interactions. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 2: 41.

Braithwaite, V. A. & Ebbesson, L. O. E. (2014) Pain and stress responses in farmed fish. OIE Scientific and Technical Review, Vol. 33 (1).

Millot, S., Nilsson, J., Fosseidengen, J. E., Fernö, A. Braithwaite, V. A. & Kristiansen, T. S. (2014) Innovative behaviour in fish: Atlantic cod can learn to use an external tag to manipulate a self-feeder. Animal Cognition 17: 779-785.

Bovenkerk, B. & Braithwaite, V. A. (2014) Beneath the Surface: killing of fish as a moral problem The End of Animal Life: Ethical and societal considerations on killing animals. Eds: Meijboom, F. L. B. & E. N. Stassen, E. N. Wageningen Academic Publishers.

Braithwaite, V. A. (2014) Pain perception. The Physiology of Fishes, 4th edition. Editors Evans, D. H., Clairborne, J. B. & Currie, S. CRC Press. pp. 327-343.

Braithwaite, V. A. (2013) Assessment and management of pain in vertebrate animals. In: Animal Suffering from Science to Law. Editors van der Kamp, T. A. & Lachance, M. Carswell Press, Toronto. pp. 25-32.

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: