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Study Finds Macaques Value Friendship Over Family Bonds

January 11, 2012

The bonds of friendship are stronger than the bonds of blood for crested macaque monkeys, according to a new study published online in the journal Animal Behaviour.

The research, which was conducted by Jerome Micheletta and Dr. Bridget Waller of the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Psychology, looked at gaze following — the act of looking where a companion is looking — among the primates.

According to BBC News Science Reporter Victoria Gill, gaze following is highly valued in macaque society as a way to help the creatures find food or potential threats to their safety.

While studying the crested macaques, Micheletta and Waller discovered that they would follow the gaze of another macaque regardless of whether or not that partner was a friend, family member, or a socially dominant member of the group, the university reported in a January 11 press release. However, they would follow the gaze of a friend much faster than those of a relative or senior macaque.

The findings suggest that “friends rather than family are more likely to affect how we behave and develop,” Nadia Gilani of the Daily Mail said on Tuesday, adding that the Portsmouth researchers “believe that the strength of this bond of friendship could explain how other primates, including humans, develop their social skills.”

“We [study these primates] to try to explain how our own social system evolved,” Micheletta, the lead researcher on the study, told Gill in an interview. “We want to know why we humans form groups and… social relationships… Friendship is important for [these animals] to cope with day to day life and survival. In some species, friends are probably as important as family and dominance status.”

The act of gaze following is not a reflex action or an automatic response, the University explained in their media release. Rather, they said, it is “flexible” and dependent both upon the situation and the relationship between the animals involved.

In addition to macaques, this behavior has been observed in humans, chimpanzees, goats, dolphins, and other species, but until this study, it has not been understood very well, the University claims.

Thanks to the research of Micheletta and Waller, they claim that there is now proof that “there is nothing random about who follows whose gaze, or how speedily they pick up the sometimes very subtle changes to another’s eye movements.”

“Our findings reveal something about the evolution of friendship and its links with cognition and communication, which have not been studied before,” Micheletta told Gilani. “Our study shows that friendship, more than family ties or the status of another, improves the gaze-following ability of this particular macaque species“¦ It is likely the same applies to other primates, including humans.”

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Source: RedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports