It turns out that chimpanzees use hugs and kisses the same way — and it works.
Researchers studying people’s closest genetic relatives found that sᴛʀᴇss was reduced in chimps that were victims of ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪon if a third chimp stepped in to offer consolation. Orlaith Fraser from Liverpool John Moores University has shown that these acts of consolation help to reduce the sᴛʀᴇss levels of the ‘victims’ and chimps most frequently console individuals with whom they share valuable social ties.
“Consolation usually took the form of a kiss or embrace,” she said, “This is particularly interesting,” because this behavior is rarely seen other than after a ᴄᴏɴғʟɪᴄᴛ.
Over the course of 21 months, the team recorded any instances of group members biting, hitting, trampling, chasing or ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛening each other. They noted which chimps were involved, who started it, how intense the fight was, who won and what happened afterwards.
Immediately after the dispute, the ‘victims’ showed clear signs of sᴛʀᴇss if they hadn’t reconciled with their opponents. They behaved in ways that chimps do when they’re anxious, including scratching and grooming themselves about three times more often than normal. Past studies have shown that acts of reconciliation between two fighters bring the levels of these behaviours down to normal and Fraser found that consolation does the same.
After ᴄᴏɴғʟɪᴄᴛs, other chimps would often approach the loser and embrace, touch, groom or play with them. Chimps were more likely to behave in this way towards victims of ᴠɪᴏʟᴇɴce who hadn’t reconciled with their ᴀɢɢʀᴇssor, a finding that’s in line with earlier studies. Fraser showed that these acts of companionship alleviated the victims’ sᴛʀᴇss and they performed anxious behaviours at levels indistinguishable from chimps that had not been involved in fights.
Dr. Frans de Waal of the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta said the study is important because it shows the relationship between consolation and sᴛʀᴇss reduction. Previous researchers have claimed that consolation had no effect on sᴛʀᴇss, said de Waal, who was not part of Fraser’s research team.
“This study removes doubt that consolation really does what the term suggests: provide relief to disᴛʀᴇssed parties after ᴄᴏɴғʟɪᴄᴛ. The evidence is compelling and makes it likely that consolation behavior is an expression of empathy,” de Waal said.
De Waal suggested that this evidence of empathy in apes is “perhaps equivalent to what in human children is called ‘sympathetic concern.’ “That behavior in children includes touching and hugging of disᴛʀᴇssed family members and “is in fact identical to that of apes, and so the comparison is not far-fetched,” he said.
Only the great apes (specifically humans, gorillas, chimps and bonobos) are convincingly known to console one another. Monkeys don’t do it!
There is also suggestive evidence of such behavior in large-brained birds and dogs, said Fraser, but it has not yet been shown that it reduces sᴛʀᴇss levels in those animals.
Previous research on ᴄᴏɴғʟɪᴄᴛ among chimps concentrated on cases where there is reconciliation between victim and ᴀɢɢʀᴇssor, with little attention to intervention by a third party.