What do wild saiga antelopes tell us about the relative roles of the two brain hemispheres in social interactions?

  • Andrey Giljov
  • Yegor Malashichev
  • Karina KareninaEmail author
Original Paper


Two brain hemispheres are unequally involved in the processing of social stimuli, as demonstrated in a wide range of vertebrates. A considerable number of studies have shown the right hemisphere advantage for social processing. At the same time, an approach–withdrawal hypothesis, mainly based on experimental evidence, proposes the involvement of both brain hemispheres according to approach and withdrawal motivation. The present study aimed to test the relative roles of the two hemispheres in social responses displayed in a natural context. Visual biases, implicating hemispheric lateralization, were estimated in the social interactions of saiga antelope in the wild. In individually identified males, the left/right visual field use during approach and withdrawal responses was recorded based on the lateral head/body position, relative to the conspecific. Lateralized approach responses were investigated in three types of interactions, with left visual field bias found for chasing a rival, no bias—for attacking a rival, and right visual field bias—for pursuing a female. In two types of withdrawal responses, left visual field bias was found for retreating after fighting, while no bias was evident in fight rejecting. These findings demonstrate that neither the right hemisphere advantage nor the approach–withdrawal distinction can fully explain the patterns of lateralization observed in social behaviour. It is clear that both brain hemispheres play significant roles in social responses, while their relative contribution is likely determined by a complex set of motivational and emotional factors rather than a simple dichotomous distinction such as, for example, approach versus withdrawal motivation.


Laterality Hemispheric specialization Brain asymmetry Eye preference Ungulate Contest behaviour 



We are grateful to Anna Lushchekina and the staff of Stepnoi State Nature Sanctuary, and especially Vladimir Kalmykov, for valuable support and assistance during data collection.


This work was supported by the Russian Science Foundation (Grant No. 14-14-00284).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in the study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the St. Petersburg State University ethical committee (Permit No. 131-03-4).

Informed consent

Informed consent is not applicable to the study since no human subjects were included in the study.

Supplementary material

10071_2019_1259_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (685 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 684 kb) Online Resource. Output of binary logistic regression model used to analyze possible associations of visual field use (dependent variable) with the type of interaction, males’ age and year of study (independent variables).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Faculty of BiologySaint Petersburg State UniversitySaint PetersburgRussia
  2. 2.Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology, Department of Ecological PhysiologyInstitute of Experimental MedicineSaint PetersburgRussia

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