What Australian Magpies Can Teach Us About Bullies

<span class="copyright">Lea Scaddan via Getty Images</span>
Lea Scaddan via Getty Images

If you were bullied as a child, you were probably told that the bullies were jealous of you, or, at the very least, not as smart as you were.

I know for myself that I always shrugged these explanations off, but, new research from the University of Western Australia has found that, actually, our parents and guardians might have been onto something.

Magpies are famous for their intelligence, but of course, not all birds or indeed humans are created equally, and researchers hoped to get to the bottom of how they could identify less intelligent magpies.

What researchers learned about less intelligent magpies 

Dr Lizzie Speechley of the University of Western Australia and her colleagues studied the behaviour and social interactions of a group of wild magpies, which they then followed with an intelligence test for the birds.

In a statement discussing the research, Dr Speechley said: “Consistent with previous research on this species, we found individuals in larger groups performed better on associative learning tasks,

“However, the magpies’ position in the social network also influenced their performance with individuals on the receiving end of aggression performing better, while those involved in aggressive interactions performed worse.”

Basically, the less intelligent magpies were the most likely to be aggressive to other magpies in the group.

Which may ring true to former bullying victims.

Professor Mandy Ridley spoke to IFLScience about the study and said that while she did the study to learn more about birds, she also feels that magpies are a “good vehicle” to answer evolutionary questions, and the origins of human intelligence are at the forefront of these.

Ridley said she has no evidence humans are smart because we descend from apes that got bullied, but; “It does make logical sense that those who can learn to avoid risk are more likely to pass on their genes.”

Which does lead to the question of whether more aggressive creatures never felt the need to learn.

Speechley added: “Magpies live in cooperative social groups and this finding suggests being aggressive to your group members is not beneficial.”

Well, quite!