Twitter fight: Birds use social networks to pick opponents wisely

June 09, 2020

Knowing when to fight and when to flee is a big part of many animal societies, including our own.

University of Cincinnati biologist Elizabeth Hobson says some animals make the call based on a sophisticated understanding of social standing and their place in it.

"We have a phrase: Choose your battles wisely. Animals do that. People do that," said Hobson, an assistant professor in UC's College of Arts and Sciences.

In a new article published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology, Hobson says animals such as monk parakeets seem to understand where they fit in a dominance hierarchy and pick their fights accordingly. This high-level social information helps animals improve or maintain their status.

Dominance hierarchies are common social organizations in nature. They're found in everything from hermit crabs to human society, Hobson said.

"Understanding how information is perceived, processed and used by individuals in hierarchical systems is critical to understanding how animals make aggression decisions because different types of information can underlie different kinds of aggression strategies," she said in the article.

The most basic understanding comes from firsthand experience. 

"The low-information case is when animals only perceive and remember things that happened to them. A good example of this is if you are beaten in a fight. You remember that you lost but not to whom you lost," she said.

Biologists say these battles can have a lasting impact on the combatants called winner effects and loser effects. Winners are more likely to be aggressive in future conflicts while losers are less likely to meet aggression with aggression or pick a new fight.

"With a strong loser effect, if you got beaten, you're less likely to fight again in the future," Hobson said.

Other animals might remember losing to a particular foe and be less inclined to challenge that foe in the future.

"What if you don't just remember the outcome but you remember who beat you? You can build on that," she said. "Going forward, you'll be less aggressive with the individual who beat you. It's a different social dynamic."

But some animals can make judgments not just through their own direct interactions but by observing other animals and making inferences about where those would-be opponents stand in the hierarchy. 

This ability, known as transitive inference, goes like this: If animal A beats animal B and animal B beats animal C, you know animal A can beat animal C. It's a logical conclusion some animals seem to understand, Hobson said.

"Maybe they never have to fight C or they'll know they can beat C," she said.

Hobson is putting her ideas to the test with captive parakeets.

"This paper is setting up a perspective I want to push in my research program. It will be an exciting time," Hobson said.
-end-


University of Cincinnati

Related Aggression Articles from Brightsurf:

Should I run, or should I not? The neural basis of aggression and flight
Researchers in the Gross group at EMBL Rome have investigated the mechanism behind defensive behaviour in mice.

Most dentists have experienced aggression from patients
Roughly half of US dentists experienced verbal or reputational aggression by patients in the past year, and nearly one in four endured physical aggression, according to a new study led by researchers at NYU College of Dentistry.

Swans reserve aggression for each other
Swans display more aggression to fellow swans than other birds, new research shows.

Group genomics drive aggression in honey bees
Researchers often study the genomes of individual organisms to try to tease out the relationship between genes and behavior.

How experiencing traumatic stress leads to aggression
Traumatic stress can cause aggression by strengthening two brain pathways involved in emotion, according to research recently published in JNeurosci.

New insights into how genes control courtship and aggression
Fruit flies, like many animals, engage in a variety of courtship and fighting behaviors.

Two hormones drive anemonefish fathering, aggression
Two brain-signaling molecules control how anemonefish dads care for their young and respond to nest intruders, researchers report in a new study.

Solitude breeds aggression in spiders (rather than vice versa)
Spiders start out social but later turn aggressive after dispersing and becoming solitary, according to a study publishing July 2 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Raphael Jeanson of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, and colleagues.

Interparental aggression often co-occurs with aggression toward kids
Parents in the midst of a psychologically or physically aggressive argument tend to also be aggressive with their children, according to researchers at Penn State.

Familiarity breeds aggression
Aggressiveness among animals may increase the longer individuals live together in stable groups.

Read More: Aggression News and Aggression Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.