Individual common carp Cyprinus carpio were screened repeatedly for risk taking (rate of exploration of a novel, potentially dangerous environment) and for competitive ability (success in gaining access to a spatially restricted food source). Marked differences in behaviour were evident, and significant consistency in individual responses across trials was found for both risk taking and competitive ability. In addition, there was a significant positive relationship between individual performance in these two contexts, with fish that explored more quickly in the novel environment tending to be among the first to gain access to restricted food. In two follow-up studies, resting metabolic rate, blood lactate and glucose and the expression of the cortisol receptor gene in the head kidney and brain were compared in fish from the two extremes of the risk-taking spectrum. Mass-specific metabolic rate was significantly higher in risk-taking than in risk-avoiding fish, while plasma lactate and glucose concentrations and expression of the cortisol receptor gene were lower. It was concluded that a behavioural syndrome based on boldness and aggression exists in C. carpio, as it does in many other animals, and that this is associated with differences in metabolic and stress physiology (down to the genomic level) similar to those described in animals with different coping strategies.