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Ravens Play Politics

Update Date: Apr 23, 2014 05:16 PM EDT

Ravens understand different types of social relationships like friendship, kinship and partnership.

The findings also revealed that ravens form strict dominance relations.

Scientists said the findings are important because understanding one's own relationships to others is a key ability in daily social life like knowing who is nice or not.

The study also revealed that ravens also play politics and know who's on their side.

Lead researcher Thomas Bugnyar of the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna observed captive groups of ravens. Bugnyar and his team let the birds hear a dominance interaction between two other ravens. These interactions either followed existing dominance roles or were reversed where a low-ranking individual shows off to a higher-ranking bird. The ravens reacted strongly with information seeking and stress-related behaviors when the dominance roles were switched. The ravens turned their heads and shook their bodies when exposed to conflicting dominance roles, suggesting that their expectations were violated. Researchers noted that, like primates, ravens too keep track of the rank relations of their group members.

Researchers found that the ravens responded to simulated rank reversals in their own group and also to those in the neighboring group, suggesting that these birds can understand rank relations just by watching other ravens.

"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," Study author Jorg Massen of the University of Vienna said in a statement.

"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 concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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