Social cognitive mechanisms are central to understanding developmental abnormalities, such as autistic spectrum disorder. Peer relations besides parent-infant or pair-bonding interactions are pivotal social relationships that are especially well developed in humans. Cognition of familiarity forms the basis of peer socialization. Domestic chick (Gallus gallus) studies have contributed to our understanding of the developmental process in sensory-motor cognition but many processes remain unknown. In this report, we used chicks, as they are precocial birds, and we could therefore focus on peer interaction without having to consider parenting. The subject chick behavior towards familiar and unfamiliar reference peers was video-recorded, where the subject and the reference were separated by either an opaque or transparent wall. Spectrogram and behavior correlation analyses based on principal component analysis, revealed that chicks elicited an intermediate contact call and a morphologically different distress call, more frequently towards familiar versus unfamiliar chicks in acoustic only conditions. When both visual and acoustic cues were present, subject chicks exhibited approaching and floor pecking behavior, while eliciting joyful (pleasant) calls, irrespective of whether reference peers were familiar or unfamiliar. Our result showed that chicks recognized familiarity using acoustic cues and expressed cognition through modified distress calls. These finding suggests that peer affiliation may be established by acoustic recognition, independent of visual face recognition, and that eventually, both forms of recognition are integrated, with modulation of acoustic recognition.
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