Third-party intervention and post-conflict behaviour in agonistic encounters of pigs (Sus scrofa)

N Maffezzini, SP Turner, JE Bolhuis, Gareth A Arnott*, Irene Camerlink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Third-party interference in agonistic contests entails a deliberate intervention in an ongoing fight by a bystanding individual (third party) and may be followed by post-conflict social behaviour to provide support to a specific individual. The mechanisms behind third-party intervention are, however, still largely understudied. The aim of this study was to investigate third-party interference, with the predictions that (1) the interferer derives benefits from its action by winning a fight, (2) that patterns of intervention depend on familiarity, (3) that dyadic fights last longer than triadic fights, and (4) that interferers engage in non-agonistic social behaviours afterwards. Pre-pubertal pigs (Sus scrofa) (n = 384) were grouped with one familiar and four unfamiliar conspecifics (all non-kin) to elicit contests for dominance rank. Third-party interference was analysed for the first 30 min after grouping, along with the behaviour (nosing or aggression), contest duration, contest outcome, and interferer behaviour after the fight (post-conflict social behaviour).

RESULTS: Three types of interference were observed: non-agonistic involvement (nose contact) by the interferer in a dyadic fight; a triadic fight with each of three contestants fighting one opponent at a time; and triadic fights with two opponents jointly attacking the third one (two-against-one fights). The likelihood of a third-party intervention to occur did not depend on the presence of a familiar animal in the fight. However, once intervention was triggered, interferers attacked unfamiliar fight initiators more than familiar ones. Two-against-one fights lasted longer than other triadic fights and occurred more often when both initial contestants were females. Results of 110 triadic fights (out of 585 fights in total) revealed that interferers were more likely to win compared to the initial opponents at equal body weight. The most common post-conflict behaviour displayed by the interferer was agonistic behaviour towards another group member, independently of familiarity.

CONCLUSIONS: The general lack of discrimination for familiarity suggests interference is not driven by support to familiar individuals in pigs. The results show that intervening in an ongoing fight gives the interferer a high chance of contest success and may be a strategy that is beneficial to the interferer to increase its dominance status.

Original languageEnglish
Article number28
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
Early online date17 Aug 2023
Publication statusFirst published - 17 Aug 2023


  • Aggression
  • Animal contest
  • Coalition formation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Social behaviour
  • Social support theory
  • Third party interaction


Dive into the research topics of 'Third-party intervention and post-conflict behaviour in agonistic encounters of pigs (Sus scrofa)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this