Zebrafish could be used to study the underlying causes of psychiatric disorders, say scientists.
The study, published online in the journal Behavioral Brain Research, found zebrafish can modify their behavior in response to varying situations.
Dr Caroline Brennan, from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences who led the study, said: "Zebrafish are becoming one of the most useful animal models for studying the developmental genetic mechanisms underlying many psychiatric disorders; they breed prolifically and we have many new and exciting techniques that allow us to explore their genetic make-up in the laboratory."
The scientists took 15 zebrafish through a series of experiments involving color choice to test aspects of behavior associated with psychiatric disease.
The fish were given a choice between two colors - they learnt to choose one of the colors which gave them food. The colors were then reversed and they learnt to change their color choice.
The scientists then introduced a new set of colors and started the process again. The fish were able to change their behavior accordingly, learning the new set of colors much faster than the original set, a process psychologists call 'behavioral flexibility'.
The research challenges previous studies which suggested fish were unable to elicit behavioral flexibility, unlike mammals and humans, because they didn't have a frontal cortex.
"Problems with behavioral flexibility, and general deficits in attention, are key symptoms displayed by people suffering a variety of psychological disorders related to impulse control, such as drug addiction, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some personality disorders," Dr Brennan said.
"The results of our study suggest that there may be a role for zebrafish in the future as a useful comparative model to study the cause and prognosis of some of these disorders."
Zebrafish are often used by neuroscientists to explore mechanisms controlling behavior and in the search for new compounds to treat behavioral disease such as addiction, attention deficit disorders or autism. This study adds further weight to the argument for using zebrafish in the study of these disorders and conditions.