Monkeys are more complicated than you’d think

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Generous Leaders and Selfish Underdogs: Pro-Sociality in Despotic Macaques:

Actively granting food to a companion is called pro-social behavior and is considered to be part of altruism. Recent findings show that some non-human primates behave pro-socially. However, pro-social behavior is not expected in despotic species, since the steep dominance hierarchy will hamper pro-sociality. We show that some despotic long-tailed macaques do grant others access to food. Moreover, their dominance hierarchy determines pro-social behavior in an unexpected way: high-ranking individuals grant, while low-ranking individuals withhold their partner access to food. Surprisingly, pro-social behavior is not used by subordinates to obtain benefits from dominants, but by dominants to emphasize their dominance position. Hence, Machiavellian macaques rule not through “fear above love”, but through “be feared when needed and loved when possible”.

Probably would be nicer to have more dots on the scatterplot…but that would involve tracking more troops. Someone needs to pay for more ethologists!

7 Comments

  1. Surprisingly, pro-social behavior is not used by subordinates to obtain benefits from dominants, but by dominants to emphasize their dominance position.

    This is the largesse model characteristic of many early societies — patron-client, warrior bands, big man societies, potlatch rituals, etc. By giving you incur obligations which are repaid with submission and support. The submissive are called “dependents”, “retainers”, “clients”, etc.

    A very small amount of reading in political anthropology would have improved that paper: Marcel Mauss, Morton Fried, Marshall Sahlins, or any of a large number of many others.

    An ev-psych explanation of this is not to be dismissed, but a game-theoretical look at how large groups can be organized out of independent units would be illuminating too.

  2. Please point me to the links for the new research you don’t cite. Thanks!

  3. You were probably talking to Razib, but Fried: “The evolution of Political Society”, Sahlins: “Stone Age Economics”, Mauss: “The Gift”, and Black-Michaud: “Cohesive Force” are all good.

  4. I think it’s very interesting that it’s specifically the number 2 monkey that is the *most* pro-social. Not that you can base an academic paper on one monkey but theoretically something like this makes sense if we assume the number one monkey is reaping the rewards of position while the number two monkey is trying hard to demonstrate his worth.

  5. What does the color of the dots indicate?

  6. TGGP,

    I guess 20 monkeys were tested with non-kin (solid circles) and 10 of them were also tested with kin (open circles), but that’s not quite what the text of the article says.

  7. @ Douglas Knight: your interpretation is correct, however, I do not see that the text doesn’t say that.

    @ bbartlog: the number 2 monkey is the alfa female, maybe that changes your interpretation a bit.

    @ Razib: indeed they shoul pay for more ethologists.

    @ Emerson: so much to read, so little time and so little room in such a research article.

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