Mechanisms: Social Recognition and Social Organisation

  • Ashley Ward
  • Mike Webster


Social organisation in animals takes many forms. It includes assemblages of territorial animals, dominance hierarchies and social groups, among other things. The basic tenet that underlies these forms of social organisation is that animals adapt their responses to the different individuals that they encounter according to some recognised characteristic. For example, an individual may be socially attracted to some, but may ignore others; it may defer to some, or it may dominate others. Consequently, all forms of social organisation are reliant upon social recognition, which is the ability of an individual to discriminate among other animals that it encounters within its environment and to bias its behaviour accordingly, directing the appropriate behaviour towards the appropriate individual. Even mass displays of self-organised, collective phenomena typically occur in flocks, swarms or shoals of a single species, or at least dominated by a single species, implying, at the very least, basic recognition and discrimination of conspecifics from heterospecifics. In terms of group-living animals, the level of structure within the social organisation of a species is reliant upon a suite of interacting and often dynamic factors (see Chap.  1). Thus, their social organisation may be highly structured in time and space or comparatively evanescent. Animals in many instances form groups with kin or with familiar individuals. In doing so, they potentially gain access to inclusive fitness benefits or to the enhanced antipredator, foraging or social learning benefits that have been described for individuals in such groups. Moreover, social organisation can feed back to strengthen social recognition – animals that spend greater time in association may learn each other’s identity with increasing specificity – hence, there is an interrelationship of social recognition and social organisation, both within the lifetime of an animal and most especially throughout evolutionary time. The challenges posed by living among conspecifics in social groups have given rise to the development of cognitive abilities relating to communication, social learning and the development of culture.


Social Recognition Individual Recognition Lemur Catta Poecilia Reticulata Tonkean Macaque 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashley Ward
    • 1
  • Mike Webster
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Life and Environmental SciencesThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of BiologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK

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