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Even the Fish Are Depressed Now

The good, the bad and the ugly things we learned about our bodies today

In case the headline didn’t give it away, today’s edition of Things We Learned About Our Bodies isn’t actually about our bodies. Or is it? More on that in a sec.

The New York Times reported this morning on research by the department of biological and environmental sciences at Troy University in Alabama that fish can, and do, become depressed.

According to Professor Julian Pittman, fish are actually very obvious about their mental state. When a zebrafish is placed in a fresh tank, their natural inclination is to swim near the top, exploring their new environs.

But if the fish then transitions to the lower half of the tank, they know that the fish is depressed. How depressed is a function of the time spent at the bottom versus at the top. This is called the “novel tank test,” and, as I hinted at above, it has some interesting implications for understanding our own depressive selves.

Just like humans, the fish become withdrawn; they lose interest in almost the same things (food, entertainment, the world around them) in the same way as we do. Said Pittman:

“The neurochemistry is so similar that it’s scary. There is a lot we don’t give fish credit for.”

All this has led to fish being viewed as possible candidates for testing antidepressants. If they can work on fish, maybe they can help humans beat their own depression and get back to swimming at the top of the fish tank.

A few other things we learned about our bodies today: