Sub-adult Ravens Synchronize their Play: A Case of Emotional Contagion?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Emotional contagion – the alignment of emotions between individuals through behavioral synchronization – is proposed as a key, basic component of human social cognition and empathy. In the field of cognitive zoology, contagious behaviors have also received attention. Several such behaviors have been documented in various species. Nevertheless, emotional and behavioral contagion differ. Emotional contagion – a term predominantly used in human psychology – requires that the contagious behavior leads to converging emotional states. In non-linguistic animals, it is difficult to determine whether a behavior “caught” from someone else results in a similar affective state or remains a purely behavioral response. Some studies suggest the latter as a possibility. To disentangle the problem, we explored instances of contagious behaviors within the play domain. In several species, play involves a variety of behaviors falling into different categories: social, object and locomotor play. If a category of play in one individual induces a different category of play in another, this suggests the spread of a generally playful mood rather than a species-specific motor response. Although some studies suggest emotional contagion in mammals, it is not known whether it occurs in birds. We investigated play contagion in a group of ravens, well known for their complex social skills. The results indicate emotional contagion: the birds engaged in all categories of play on a higher level under the condition where contagion was likely to occur.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology
  • Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)


  • Emotional contagion, Behavioral synchronization, Social cognition, Animal play, Empathy, Raven cognition
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-205
JournalAnimal behavior and cognition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch