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Do Ravens Show Consolation? Responses to Distressed Others

Orlaith N. Fraser (Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria)
Thomas Bugnyar (Konrad Lorenz Forschungsstelle, Grünau, Austria)

Abstract

Background: Bystander affiliation (post-conflict affiliation from an uninvolved bystander to the conflict victim) may represent an expression of empathy in which the bystander consoles the victim to alleviate the victim’s distress (‘‘consolation’’). However, alternative hypotheses for the function of bystander affiliation also exist. Determining whether ravens spontaneously offer consolation to distressed partners may not only help us to understand how animals deal with the costs of aggressive conflict, but may also play an important role in the empathy debate.

Methodology/Principal findings: This study investigates the post-conflict behavior of ravens, applying the predictive framework for the function of bystander affiliation for the first time in a non-ape species. We found weak evidence for reconciliation (post-conflict affiliation between former opponents), but strong evidence for both bystander affiliation and solicited bystander affiliation (post-conflict affiliation from the victim to a bystander). Bystanders involved in both interactions were likely to share a valuable relationship with the victim. Bystander affiliation offered to the victim was more likely to occur after intense conflicts. Renewed aggression was less likely to occur after the victim solicited affiliation from a bystander.

Conclusions/Significance: Our findings suggest that in ravens, bystanders may console victims with whom they share avaluable relationship, thus alleviating the victims’ post-conflict distress. Conversely victims may affiliate with bystanders after a conflict in order to reduce the likelihood of renewed aggression. These results stress the importance of relationship quality in  determining the occurrence and function of post-conflict interactions, and show that ravens may be sensitive to the emotions of others.

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Updated: 15/10/2015 — 16:54
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