Recent studies of behavioural physiology on animals have suggested the crucial role of peripherally physiological signals in eliciting arousal and emotion. Heart rate (HR) is one of the useful and critical signals to measure autonomic regulation as a physiological basis for arousal and emotion in response to biologically significant stimuli such as social encounter with conspecific individuals. However, our understanding of peripherally physiological response such as HRs and autonomic activities under social contexts of non-human animals is still limited, particularly in birds. Here, we examined the autonomic activity of behaving crows exposed to a dominant and a subordinate conspecific by using non-invasive electrocardiogram recording. We found different patterns of autonomic responses dependent on the relative dominance position: dominant crows encountering subordinates showed the elevation of sympathetic activity, whereas subordinates encountering dominants showed decreased HR with elevated parasympathetic activity. This is the first study in birds to report different autonomic responses dependent on relative dominance positions during dyadic social encounters. The present study advances our understanding of the role of the peripheral autonomic system, as an interactive system with the brain, in eliciting emotion/arousal associated with socially challenging environments from an evolutionary perspective.
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