The Web of Life (13) Audience Effect

Audience Effect

Many animals live in a communication network, an environment where individuals can obtain information about competitors or potential mates by observing interactions between conspecifics. In such an environment, interactants might benefit by changing their signaling behaviour in the presence of an audience. ~ French ethologist Davy Ung et al

For social animals, eavesdropping provides valuable information about conspecifics. Many animals behave differently when they know they are being watched. This is the audience effect.

Male vervet monkeys, especially subordinate males, alter their behavior toward infants depending upon the perceived presence or absence of the mother. Correspondingly, a mother’s attitude is affected by a male’s behavior toward her infant, and his social status.

Fornicating female chimps modulate their cries of enjoyment depending upon who may be listening. Subordinates particularly pipe down if a higher-ranking female may be within earshot.

Adroitness commonly determines a male’s mating prospects. Field crickets and guppies become more aggressive in male-male competitions when a female is present.

Siamese fighting fish are territorial, and naturally aggressive – both male and female. They try to intimidate one another by flaring their gill covers to appear more impressive. Both sexes establish respective dominance hierarchies in their communities. In doing so, some fighting is spared by fish spectating conflicts between conspecifics. An observer can tell rivals’ skills, and its own chances, by watching combatants, and then act accordingly. Male-male contests set both social status and mating chances. Females watch combatants and flirt with the winners.

Nightingales are known for the beauty of their powerfully sung songs. These tunes are advertisements of prowess, for both mating and dominance among these territorial birds. Dyadic contests are common, with one bird overlapping the song of another. While the rivalry is intended to affect an adversary, such performances also influence the future interactions of conspecifics who eavesdrop on competitive concerts.

Canaries are socially monogamous but engage in extra-pair copulations if the opportunity arises. Females eavesdrop on vocal and physical contests between males and use that information to direct their sexual behaviors. A female who sees her mate fare poorly in a contest with another male is more given to sex with males other than her mate; discreetly, of course.

Male canaries adjust their behaviors based upon who is watching, and what their social bond is with the onlooker. A male will not flirt with another female if his wife might see him do so. Similarly, male canaries adjust their agonistic antics toward each other depending upon the audience.