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Thomas Bugnyar, 2011

JOUR FIXE with Thomas Bugnyar

Raven Politics: Understanding and Use of Social Relationships

Afterwards Screening: Uccellacci e Uccellini (The Hawks and the Sparrows), Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy 1966, 85’.





Social life has been suggested as one of the main driving forces for the development of higher cognitive abilities in humans and non-human primates. Yet there are open questions concerning the mechanisms underlying ‘intelligent’ behaviour and the socio-ecological conditions that promote investment in cognitive skills. Recently, the idea of the bird family Corvidae (ravens, crows, magpies and jays) representing a mirror group to the primates in respect to cognitive capacities has gained momentum. Understanding the social life of corvids may be critical in our attempt to understand primate/human cognition, since comparison between these groups may offer the unique opportunity to identify which cognitive abilities are common to social living irrespective of phylogeny and how selection has acted to produce these solutions. Thomas Bugnyar’s current research thus aims at investigating social complexity (i.e. cooperation and competition with conspecifics) as driving force for brain evolution in birds. He will present recent findings on the use of social knowledge in my main model species, the raven Corvus corax.


Thomas Bugnyar (*1971 in Eisenstadt) received his PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of Vienna. After spending some time in the USA (Erwin Schrödinger fellow at University of Vermont) and in the UK (lecturer at University of St Andrews), he returned to Vienna for the prestigious START programme of the Austrian Science Fund. He is now professor for Cognitive Ethology and part of the newly founded Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna. His research focuses on social behaviour and complex cognition in non-human animals, ranging from social learning, perspective taking and ‘theory of mind’ to forms of cooperation and conflict management. He has published over 40 journal articles and is member of the editorial board of Animal Behaviour, the scientific committee of the Ethological Society and the EU-program ‘Atomium Culture’.


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JOUR FIXE with Thomas Bugnyar
January 21, 2011, 18:00h