The influence of experience on contest assessment strategies

I Camerlink, SP Turner, M Farish, G Arnott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Animal contest behaviour has been widely studied, yet major knowledge gaps remain concerning the information-gathering and decision-making processes used during encounters. The mutual assessment strategy, where the individual assesses its own fighting ability (Resource Holding Potential, RHP) and compares it to that of its opponent, is least understood. We hypothesise that individuals need experience of agonistic encounters to become proficient at mutual assessment. Pigs (Sus scrofa, n=316) were contested twice. In between contests, animals did or did not (control) receive intense fighting experience. A substantial proportion of the contests reached an outcome with a clear winner without fighting. Non-escalation was highest in RHP asymmetric dyads of the second contest, irrespective of experience. In contest 1 (no experience) and in contest 2 for the experienced animals, costs increased with loser RHP and where unaffected by winner RHP, suggesting a self-assessment strategy. In contest 2 control dyads, which only had experience of one prior contest, a negative relation between winner RHP and costs suggested mutual assessment during the pre-escalation phase but not during escalated aggression. This reveals that a brief and relatively mild experience can be beneficial in the development of mutual assessment whereas profound experience may result in adoption of a self-assessment strategy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number14492
Early online date3 Nov 2017
Publication statusFirst published - 3 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note



  • Aggression
  • Assessment strategy
  • Contest
  • Contest costs
  • Decision making
  • Experience
  • Fighting ability
  • Game theory
  • Mutual assessment
  • Pigs


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