Like many social mammals, ravens form different types of social relationships – they may be friends, kin, or partners and they also form strict dominance relations.
From a cognitive perspective, understanding one's own relationships to others is a key ability in daily social life ("knowing who is nice or not"). Yet, understanding also the relationships group members have with each other sets the stage for "political" maneuvers ("knowing who might support whom").
This image shows two raven.
Credit: Thomas Bugnyar
The results of this study have been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
A team of researchers led by Thomas Bugnyar of the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, set out to test third-party knowledge in captive groups of ravens. Using a playback design, they let individuals hear a dominance interaction between two other ravens.
These interactions were either in accordance with the existing dominance hierarchy in that group or they reflected a possible rank reversal, whereby a low-ranking individual was showing off to a higher-ranking bird. In the latter case, the ravens reacted strongly with information seeking and stress-related behaviors, such as head turns and body shakes, suggesting that their expectations about how the dominance relations among others should look like were violated. Similar to primates, ravens thus keep track of the rank relations of their group members.
Importantly, the researchers found that the ravens not only responded to simulated rank reversals in their own group but also to those in the neighboring group. These findings suggest that ravens can deduce others' rank relations just by watching them. Moreover, it is the first time that animals are shown to be capable of tracking rank relations among individuals that do not belong to their own social group.
Lead-author Jorg Massen underlines the importance of this latter finding by referring to an example from the popular television series "The Sopranos": "When Tony Blundetto made fun about Tony Soprano, as spectators of the show, we immediately recognized that this was inappropriate with regard to the dominance order within the Soprano family.
As we are not part of the Soprano family, we make this inference not by comparing our own rank relation with the two Tony's with each other, but instead we have a mental representation of the rank relation of the two that gets violated in the turn of these events", and: "As the birds in our experiment never had any physical contact with their neighboring group and could only see and hear them, these results suggest that ravens also have mental representations about others", ends Massen.
Publication in Nature Communications:
Massen, J.J.M., Pašukonis, A., Schmidt, J. & Bugnyar, T. (2014). Ravens notice dominance reversals among conspecifics within and outside their social group. Nature Communications, 5: 3679. Published online April 22, 2014.
Jorg Massen | University of Vienna
Pathogenic bacteria hitchhiking to North and Baltic Seas?
22.07.2016 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
Unconventional quasiparticles predicted in conventional crystals
22.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemische Physik fester Stoffe
Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.
Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...
Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases
Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...
Scaffolding and specialised workers help with the delivery – Heidelberg biochemists gain new insights into biogenesis
A type of scaffolding on which specialised workers ply their trade helps in the manufacturing process of the two subunits from which the ribosome – the protein...
Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum München have developed a new mass spectrometry imaging method which, for the first time, makes it possible to analyze hundreds of metabolites in fixed tissue samples. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Protocols, explain the new access to metabolic information, which will offer previously unexploited potential for tissue-based research and molecular diagnostics.
In biomedical research, working with tissue samples is indispensable because it permits insights into the biological reality of patients, for example, in...
Chemists at the University of Basel have succeeded in using computer simulations to elucidate transient structures in proteins. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, the researchers set out how computer simulations of details at the atomic level can be used to understand proteins’ modes of action.
Using computational chemistry, it is possible to characterize the motion of individual atoms of a molecule. Today, the latest simulation techniques allow...
15.07.2016 | Event News
15.07.2016 | Event News
11.07.2016 | Event News
22.07.2016 | Information Technology
22.07.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
22.07.2016 | Life Sciences