Structural balance in the social networks of a wild mammal

Amiyaal Ilany*, Adi Barocas, Lee Koren, Michael Kam, Eli Geffen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The social structure of a population is based on individual social associations, which can be described using network patterns (motifs). Our understanding of the forces stabilizing specific social structures in animals is limited. Structural balance theory was proposed for exploring social alliances and suggested that some network motifs are more stable than others in a society. The theory models the presence of specific triads in the network and their effect on the global population structure, based on the differential stability of specific triad configurations. While structural balance was shown in human social networks, the theory has never been tested in animal societies. Here we use empirical data from an animal social network to determine whether or not structural balance is present in a population of wild rock hyraxes, Procavia capensis. We confirm its presence and show the ability of structural balance to predict social changes resulting from local instability. We present evidence that new individuals entering the population introduce social instability, which counters the tendency of social relationships to seek balanced structures. Our findings imply that structural balance has a role in the evolution of animal social structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1397-1405
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2013


FundersFunder number
National Science Foundation0832858
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Agriculture
University of Tennessee
Israel Science Foundation461/09, 488/05, 577/99


    • Network motif
    • Procavia capensis
    • Rock hyrax
    • Social network
    • Social structure
    • Structural balance theory


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