Like Primates, Ravens Understand Relations between Self and Others, Study


Similar to primates, ravens can also build different social relationships - friends, kin, or partners, according to a University of Vienna study.

The birds also understand group dynamics - which is handy in times of tussles.

 For the study, the researchers tested captive groups of ravens, where they were made to listen to an interaction between two other ravens. The recordings were either in alliance with the existing hierarchy or showed a possible rank reversal; where a low-ranked individual was speaking in a higher pitch to his higher-ranked peer.

When a low-ranked individual dominated his higher-ranked peer, the ravens in the study strongly objected to this form of interaction and displayed stress-related behaviors like head movements and body shakes, suggesting that the individual violated a certain hierarchy.

The finding of the experiment indicates that ravens thus keep a track of the relations between their group members. The researchers also found that ravens not only understood their group's rank system but also identified them in neighboring groups, just by watching them.

This is the first study that has determined an animal's ability to comprehend relations among individuals that do not belong to their own social group

Lead-author Jorg Massen draws a similarity from the study 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", Massen said in a press release.

"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", Massen said.

The finding is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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