Advantages of social skills for contest resolution

Irene Camerlink*, SP Turner, M Farish, Gareth Arnott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Animal contests are natural interactions that occur to obtain or defend resources such as food and territory. Selection should favour individuals that can win contests with minimal costs in terms of energy expenditure or injuries. We hypothesized that social skills contribute to animals’ assessment abilities in a contest situation and thereby will shorten contest duration. Animals were either raised in early life conditions stimulating the development of social skills, termed socialization, or not (control). Contests between 342 pigs at 8 weeks old (171 dyads) were studied for opponent assessment ability (using a game theoretical approach), examining duration and escalation, social behaviours performed, injuries, and outcome. Contesting dyads were from the same treatment group and varied in body weight, a validated measure of resource holding potential. Socialized animals had shorter contests that were resolved with fewer injuries and they showed more ritualized display behaviour, consistent with mutual assessment. Furthermore, there was evidence of a novel form of opponent assessment in the socialized group revealed by a positive relationship between winner resource holding potential (RHP) and fight duration. In conclusion, social skills enabled more rapid establishment of dominance relationships at lower cost. Besides its evolutionary relevance these findings may also contribute towards improving animal welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Article number181456
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number5
Early online date29 May 2019
Publication statusFirst published - 29 May 2019


  • Assessment strategy
  • Contest
  • Early life
  • Game theory
  • Pig
  • Social behaviour


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