Tit-for-tat a common pattern across primate species
Grooming reciprocity common in our evolutionary cousins.
It is one of the oldest questions of philosophy: why are people good and why should we be kind to each other. Research with nonhuman primates is beginning to bring an answer to this age-old question: return benefits.
Thirty years ago Robert Trivers developed the framework of reciprocal altruism. His hypothesis predicted that social organisms would benefit others if the cost to themselves was less than what the expected returns were likely to be. This hypothesis has been successfully tested for species ranging from ants to lions, and now a new analysis can confidently add primates to this list.
Writing in the journal Biology Letters, Gabriele Schino and Filippo Aureli report that across 22 different species and 12 genera of primates females will preferentially groom others that preferentially groom them. Previous studies have suggested that primates will direct their grooming up the hierarchy, in the nonhuman version of social networking. However these studies suggest that a trusted grooming companion was more important in the decision of whom to groom in return than was rank or relationship.
Imagine that? Fairness and gratitude as a common tactic in nonhuman primates? Meanwhile our country is vetoing health care for poor kids because we’d prefer that every family of four dole out $20,000 per year for our war in Iraq (roughly $800,000,000 total). It appears we’re lacking the basic decency found in our primate relatives. We’d better find a way to get it back and construct a more cooperative society, otherwise you may find yourself one day with no one willing to come to your aid during a time of need.