Still going through my CSSS notes and will post more later. Here is a summary of one of my favorites:
Jessica Flack gave a really interesting talk on robustness and resilience in social networks in macaques. Flack defines a social network as “persistence through time despite perturbations and changing components” (1). One form of perturbation in a social network is a conflict between two or more group members. The question arises on how conflicts are managed within a social group so that group social structure can persist over time.
Conflicts can be costly to an individual if they become serious enough. Conflicts can result in both physical damage of the individual, and can damage social relationships (1). Conflicts can either break up on their own, or through intervention of a third party. Flack’s talk was about third-party policing in macaques where the individual participating in the policing was impartial to both parties in the conflict and simply broke up the fight. It is easy to imagine how this would benefit the entire group – decreasing conflict decreases costs incurred during conflicts. However, this fails to explain how the policing individuals are able to pay the cost of policing for the entire group.
To answer this question, Flack et al. calculated a measure of social power. An individuals social power was calculated by how many times one individual received a “silent bard-teeth display” or a display indicating that one individual had a subordinate position to the other (1). Flack described that most individuals had relatively the same social status, but that there were a small set of individuals that had a very high social power (social power followed a lognormal distribution). Flack et al. found that the higher social power a given individual had, the less cost that they had to pay when breaking up a conflict. Individuals with higher power also were more likely to police a conflict. With a low cost of conflict management for high power individuals, and the benefit to the group for decreasing injury, policing could play an important role in the robustness of social networks or animal societies.
(1) Flack, Jessica C., Frans BM de Waal, and David C. Krakauer. “Social structure, robustness, and policing cost in a cognitively sophisticated species.” The American Naturalist 165.5 (2005): E126-E139.