Young chimpanzees reconcile through play

Chimps playing

Researchers at the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology have discovered for the first time that, unlike their adult counterparts who kiss and embrace immediately after a fight, young chimpanzees reconcile through play.

Dr Samina Farooqi and Dr Nicola Koyama examined the post-conflict behaviour of five immature chimpanzees for 15 months (aged between 40-78 months during the length of the study) at Chester Zoo, UK. 

They found that young chimpanzees have no problem making friendly contact after a fight but lack the reconciliatory finesse of their elders. Previous studies, including one in the same study group, found that adults use specific reconciliatory behaviours after a fight, such as kissing and cuddling. By contrast, the new study reveals that, following a confrontation, young chimpanzees will often approach opponents with a ‘play face’ – a relaxed open mouth -  tap their knuckles on the floor to invite play and engage in rough and tumble play, wrestling, jumping, and chasing each other.

Dr Nicola Koyama said: “The young chimpanzees in our study didn’t kiss and embrace and instead most commonly reconciled in the best way they knew how, with play. It’s well known that adult chimpanzees are more likely to reconcile with their friends than non-friends but the young chimpanzees didn’t seem to make this discrimination, suggesting they’ve still got a lot to learn.”

Dr Samina Farooqi commented: "Play is used as scaffolding for establishing relationships in young primates and for the first time our study has shown that infants and juvenile chimpanzees used play for reconciling with other group members."

Another conflict management skill is being friendly towards victims who’ve just been attacked - known as third party affiliation. The immature chimpanzees demonstrated this behaviour but at a much lower level than adults. 

Dr Nicola Koyama added: “Our study shows that young chimpanzees possess a basic conciliatory tendency but they lack the skills necessary to perform reconciliation appropriately. We need more studies to find out how post-conflict behaviours in young chimpanzees may be functionally different to those in adults to understand the development of these powerful social skills.”

Chimpanzees, like humans, have an extended juvenile period and they need this time to gradually develop and refine their social skills.

The paper entitled ‘The Occurrence of Postconflict Skills in Captive Immature Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)’ has been published in the International Journal of Primatology and is available to read online.


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