The ability to recognise conspecifics in contexts of mate choice and territorial defence may have large effects on an individual’s fitness. Understanding the development of assortative behaviour may shed light on how species assortative behaviour evolves and how it may influence reproductive isolation. This is the case not only for female mate preferences, but also for male mate preferences and male territorial behaviour. Here we test with a cross-fostering experiment whether early learning influences male mate preferences and male–male aggression biases in two closely related, sympatrically occurring cichlid species Pundamilia pundamilia and Pundamilia nyererei from Lake Victoria. Males that had been fostered, either by a conspecific female or by a heterospecific female, were tested for their aggression bias, as well as for their mate preferences, in two-way choice tests. Males cross-fostered with conspecific and heterospecific foster mothers selectively directed their aggression towards conspecific intruders. The cross-fostering treatment also did not affect male mate preferences. These results are in striking contrast with the finding that females of these species show a sexual preference for males of the foster species.