[monkeywire] Study: Monkeys Trade Hugs for Baby Love
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Fri Sep 14 23:24:33 EDT 2007
Monkeys Trade Hugs for Baby Love
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Sept. 13, 2007 — A big, warm hug works wonders, even in the monkey
world. Female spider monkeys without infants, it seems, will hug
mother monkeys in exchange for permission to kiss, sniff and touch
The discovery, which will be outlined in an upcoming issue of Animal
Behavior, not only shows how much primates, especially females, value
infants, but it also reveals that an embrace conveys good intentions
and provides comfort in primate species other than humans.
"An embrace is defined as one monkey approaching another monkey and
wrapping their arms around them, in very much the same way as humans
do, with one arm wrapped around the neck and the other around the
waist," lead author Kathy Slater told Discovery News.
Slater, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University
of Chester, added that the embrace is often accompanied by a "kiss on
the cheek" and a "pectoral sniff," when one monkey moves its head next
to the other monkey's chest scent glands to get a whiff.
She said both males and females tend to hug when they haven't seen
each other for a while. Males will also sometimes hug each other in
front of females "to reduce tension and prevent aggression" in a
situation that can foster competition.
But Slater's observation that females without young often embrace new
mothers is new. She and her team observed hugs received by 15 such
mothers in two communities at Otoch Ma'ax Yetel Kooh reserve in the
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.
In most instances, a recently embraced mother would grant the hugger
permission to handle her infant, which the mother carries for the
first year of its life. The mother does not release the baby, but
grants the hugger permission to sit in close proximity and handle the
"Embraces in spider monkeys appear to be a method of reassuring the
recipient of benign intent and reducing tension," Slater explained.
"Embracing is a potentially risky behavior, as it exposes vulnerable
parts of the body, such as the shoulders, face and neck, and is
therefore an honest signal to the mother that the (hugger) does not
intend to harm her or her baby."
Mothers approached by females who did not offer a hug protectively
snubbed the curious females by either turning their bodies to create a
physical barrier, or by moving — baby in tow — away from the
Louise Barrett, a researcher in the Evolutionary Psychology and
Behavioral Ecology Research Group at the University of Liverpool,
previously found that female baboons engage in similar behavior, only
they exchange grooming for baby handling.
Barrett told Discovery News that at first she wondered how anyone
could make a similar finding about spider monkeys, which do not spend
much time socially grooming.
"The fact that embraces function in the same way (as grooming) — and
perhaps more effectively — is interesting," Barrett said.
Slater believes the "biological market," whereby individuals exchange
either grooming or hugs for baby time, may illustrate the origins of
She explained that spider monkeys live in the same type of societies
as chimpanzees do. Since chimp societies are, in turn, similar to
human societies, "it is therefore possible to make direct links
between spider monkey social behavior and the evolution of human
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