Trust: recognize the language of friends

Corvids have a higher confidence in the warning signs of their own group than that of others

Siberian jays know how to trick other birds with alarm calls to access food sources. However, a group of researchers has shown that they know how to recognize when these signals were emitted by jays belonging to other social groups even of the same species. The research therefore also draws hypotheses on the evolution of our language.

Trust: recognize the language of friends

A research on trust

The Siberian jays they are birds that live in groups within family groups and employ a large repertoire of calls to warn each other from predators. Occasionally, however, birds use these calls to deceive their fellow humans and gain access to food. Researchers from the universities of Costanza, Wageningen e Zurich have now examined how Siberian jays manage to avoid the deceptions of neighboring groups. The study shows that these birds have a large confidence in the warnings of the members of their own group, but ignore those of the conspecifics of the neighboring territories. These birds then use social information to distinguish trustworthy warnings from false ones. For the researchers, these trust mechanisms may have played a role in the formation of human linguistic diversity and in the training of dialects.

Trust: recognize the language of friends

Deception and lies

L’hoax and lying are surprising aspects of communication. The use of false information intentionally communicated to others can give an advantage to those who disseminate it. However, the language is actually highly prosociale, cooperative and is mainly used to share reliable information. Therefore, it can function properly maintained only if the deception is minimized or if there are mechanisms to recognize and avoid it fraud. In fact, basically, the reliability of the partners is judged on the basis of personal experience. If someone lies to you repeatedly, you will most likely stop trusting them. However, a shared deception by an entire group towards another can increase the cooperativity. But what are the mechanisms by which animals deceive and avoid being deceived?

Trust: recognize the language of friends

Warning calls of the Siberian jay

Numerous species are capable of fool their conspecifics: primates, corvids and many social animals are capable of this. Siberian jays (Perisoreus infaustus) live in territorial groups and have an elaborate communication system: a wide range of calls allows them to alert each other to the presence of different predators and the behavior of their fiercest enemy: The falcon. Occasionally, however, some jays use alarm call to scare neighbors and access their food sources. It is actually quite a frequent phenomenon in animal kingdom. Not having faith in an alarm call could in fact cost you dearly and this strategy, in fact, works quite well.

You trust those you know

To find out how Siberian jays respond to deceptions, the researchers looked at some populations living in northern Sweden. They first recorded warning signs in various social groups. They then put in food sources; as soon as a jay or a group of jays approached they reproduced the warning signal of a hawk in the vicinity. They measured the time it took these birds to leave and return to food. The results, published in Science Advances, showed that jays took less time and returned later when the signal was picked up by the one belonging to their family group, while they responded later and returned earlier when the signals were emitted by groups “Rivals”. The experiment therefore showed that, despite belonging to the same species, i corvidi they had more confidence in signals emitted by their own social group than others. Belonging to the same species, therefore, is not enough, so there are communication patterns that develop within family groups.

Trust: recognize the language of friends

Deception as a possible factor in the formation of language and dialect

Michael Griesser, one of the authors of the research, ventures a comparison with human beings and their languages ​​and dialects. Just like Siberian jays, humans preferentially trust members who belong to their own group. Different languages ​​and dialects may therefore have developed as a way of recognizing each other by creating unique communication patterns. and therefore more likely they are cooperation partners. It could therefore very well be that vulnerability to deception was a driving force behind the rapid diversification of human languages. The development of local communication schemes could increase trust within social groups by protecting them from external deceptions.

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