Social and affective neuroscience: lessons from fish
02:00pm to 04:00pm

Social and affective neuroscience are emerging branches of neuroscience focused on the understanding the neural mechanisms of social interactions and emotions, respectively. These two areas only developed more recently because, in contrast to sensory, motor and core cognitive processes (e.g. attention, learning, memory), both social interactions and emotion have been considered more difficult to tackle, either because the behaviour involved is more complex to study or because the phenomena itself is more difficult to operationalize in model organisms (e.g. emotion in animals). However, progress at the methodological and conceptual levels allowed significant progress in both areas in recent years. Our lab has been involved in both areas and in this seminar I will present the progress we have made in the study of: (1) neural and molecular mechanisms underlying social behavior and social cognition in zebrafish; and (2) appraisal of environmental stimuli (e.g. stressor) and affective states in fish. In the first case, we are using genetic tools available for zebrafish to genetically dissected the neural mechanisms involved in social behavior and cognition, in particular the regulation of a brain social behavior network by oxytocin neurons. In the second case, we have designed behavioural paradigms to probe the occurrence of cognitive appraisal (i.e. subjective appraisal of value by the individual) and emotion-like states in fish, using non-model species with economic relevance (seabream, seabass, tilapia). Our results support the view that the neural mechanisms involved in social behavior and in emotion are evolutionary conserved, and that fish can be used as models in these two neuroscience areas, which have been so far mainly using humans and non-human mammals as their model organisms.



Rui F. Oliveira
Professor of Behavioural Biology, ISPA – Instituto Universitário; Principal Investigator - Integrative Behavioural Biology Lab, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC);

Rui F. Oliveira


Professor of  Behavioural Biology

ISPA – Instituto Universitário

Rua Jardim do Tabaco 34, 1149-041 Lisboa, Portugal


Fax: 351-21-8860954

Phone: 351-21-8811708


Principal Investigator

Integrative Behavioural Biology Lab

Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC)

Rua da Quinta Grande 6, 2780-156 Oeiras, Portugal


Fax: 351-21- 4407970

Phone: 351-21- +351 21 4407900 (ext.531)


Lab Website:



Dr. Rui Oliveira (born 22.02.1966), Ph.D. 1996 (University of Lisbon), habilitation 2004 (University of Algarve) Assistant Professor in Biological Sciences 1996 (ISPA, Lisboa), Associate Professor in Biological Sciences 2001 (ISPA, Lisboa), Full Professor in Psychobiology 2007 (ISPA, Lisbon), Principal Investigator at the Gulbenkian Science Institute 2012 (IGC, Oeiras) and Adjunct Faculty of the Champalimaud Neuroscience Program 2007 (CNP, Lisboa). Key qualifications in the field of Animal Behaviour and Cognition, Neuroendocrinology and Genomics. During the last years he has been involved in research within the field of behavioural neuroendocrinology and behavioural genomics. Main fields of interests are (1) the neuroendocrinology and genomics of social behaviour, (2) the evolution and mechanisms underlying behavioural plasticity (including alternative mating tactics), and (3) comparative social cognition. He leads a research group of 3 post-docs, 5 Ph.D. students, 2 lab technicians and variable numbers of M.Sc. and undergraduate students. He has experience in teaching (Neuroscience and Behaviour courses to Psychology undergraduate and Master students and advanced Neuroscience and Behaviour topics for the Gulbenkian and Champalimaud Ph.D. Programmes), supervising, refereeing and evaluation of scientific research (e.g. member of the Scientific Council for Environmental and Natural Sciences of the Foundation for Science and Technology, Portugal; member of the European Research Council experts panel for the Life Sciences; member of the Polish Research Council experts panel for the Biological Sciences; ad-hoc reviewer for HHMI, NSF and NIH Programs). He is the Director of the Post-Graduate Programs in Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience (M.Sc.) and Behavioural Biology (Ph.D.) at ISPA. He is also the coordinator of two ongoing research grants at the national level. He is the past President of the Portuguese Ethological Society (SPE) and was the founder Chief-Editor of the journal Acta Ethologica (Springer-Verlag). He served as Associate Editor of the journals Hormones and Behavior, and Animal Behaviour (Elsevier) and acted as Guest Editor for a thematic issue at Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. He is the new President-Elect of Society for Social Neuroscience (S4SN). Currently he is also the Dean of ISPA. He has published over 180 research papers in international peer-reviewed journals and 20 book chapters, and edited 2 books.



(for the past 10 years; see lab website for the complete list of publications)


  1. Oliveira, R.F., Simoes, J.M., Teles, M.C., Oliveira, C.R., Becker, J.D. and Lopes, J.S. 2016. Assessment of fight outcome is needed to activate socially driven transcriptional changes in the zebrafish brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 113: E654-661.


  1. Teles, M.C., Almeida, O., Lopes, J.S. and Oliveira, R.F. 2015. Social interactions elicit rapid shifts in functional connectivity in the social decision-making network of zebrafish. Proceedings Royal Society B 282: 20151099.


  1. Abril-de-Abreu, R., Cruz, J. and Oliveira, R.F. 2015. Social eavesdropping in zebrafish: tuning of attention to social interactions. Scientific Reports 5: 12678.


  1. Taborsky, B. and Oliveira, R.F. 2012. Social competence: an evolutionary approach. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 27: 679-688.


  1. Soares, M.C., Oliveira, R.F., Ros, A.F.H., Grutter, A.S. and Bshary, R. 2011. Tactile stimulation lowers stress in fish. Nature Communications 2: 534.


  1. Soares, M.C., Bshary, R., Fusani, L., Goymann, W., Hau, M., Hirschenhauser K. and Oliveira, R.F. 2010. Hormonal mechanisms of cooperative behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 365: 2737-2750.


  1. Antunes, R.A. and Oliveira, R.F. 2009. Hormonal anticipation of territorial challenges in cichlid fish. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106: 15985-15989.


  1. Oliveira, T., Gouveia, M.J. and Oliveira, R.F. 2009. Testosterone responsiveness to winning and losing experiences in female soccer players. Psychoneuroendocrinology 34: 1056-1064.


  1. Oliveira, R.F., Silva, A. and Canário, A.V.M. 2009. Why do winners keep winning? Androgen mediation of winner but not loser effects in cichlid fish. Proceedings Royal Society B 276: 2249–2256.


  1. Oliveira, R.F., Carneiro, L.A. and Canário, A.V.M. 2005. No hormonal response in tied fights. Nature 437: 207-208.