Complex contests and the influence of aggressiveness in pigs

I Camerlink, G Arnott, M Farish, SP Turner

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41 Citations (Scopus)
66 Downloads (Pure)


Animal contests vary greatly in behavioural tactics used and intensity reached, with some encounters resolved without physical contact while others escalate to damaging fighting. However, the reasons for such variation remains to be fully explained. Aggressiveness, in terms of a personality trait, offers a potentially important source of variation that has typically been overlooked. Therefore, we studied how aggressiveness as a personality trait influenced escalation between contestants matched for resource-holding potential (RHP), using detailed observations of the contest behaviour, contest dynamics and escalation levels. We predicted that winner and loser behaviour would differ depending on personality. This was tested by examining 52 dyadic contests between pigs, Sus scrofa. Aggressiveness was assayed in resident–intruder tests prior to the contest. Contests were then staged between pigs matched for RHP in terms of body weight but differing in their aggressiveness. In 27% of the contests a winner emerged without escalated physical fighting, demonstrating that a fight is not a prerequisite between RHP-matched contestants. However, the duration of contests with or without fighting was the same. In contests without a fight, opponents spent more time on mutual investigation and noncontact displays such as parallel walking, which suggests that ritualized display may facilitate assessment and decision making. Winners low in aggressiveness invested more time in opponent investigation and display and showed substantially less aggression towards the loser after its retreat compared to aggressive winners. Aggressiveness influenced contest dynamics but did not predict the level of escalation. Prominent behavioural differences were found for the interaction between personality and outcome and we therefore recommend including this interaction in models where personality is considered. Analyses based on contest duration only would miss many of the subtleties shown here and we therefore encourage more detailed analyses of animal contests, irrespective of the level of contest escalation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71 - 78
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date28 Sept 2016
Publication statusFirst published - 28 Sept 2016

Bibliographical note



  • Aggression
  • Behaviour
  • Contest
  • Personality
  • Pig


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