is a freelance science reporter, writing about the environment, health and the mind. Her work has been published in The Guardian, BBC and National Geo

How the brains of social animals synchronise and expand one another | Aeon Essays

submited by
Style Pass
2022-06-23 10:30:05

is a freelance science reporter, writing about the environment, health and the mind. Her work has been published in The Guardian, BBC and National Geographic, among others.

Humans are not the only creatures that show a refined grasp of social norms. If a group of adult male rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) find themselves sitting around a turning table set with food, they will display an ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ ethos of reciprocity. One monkey will offer another one a piece of fruit and, what’s more, will expect the gesture to be reciprocated. If the offer isn’t forthcoming, the first monkey is likely to retaliate by refusing to give up anything on his turn. The monkeys also like to group together in cliques; if they see one monkey has been kind to another, they collectively show kindness to the first monkey. If you’re observing, it looks like nothing so much as a group of friends buying each other rounds of drinks at a bar.

While decades of research have dispelled the myth that sociality is unique to our species, scientists are still unclear about just how individual animals retain information about the structure of the ‘society’ in which they’re embedded. Are the monkeys simply copying each other and sharing food via a sophisticated form of mirroring? Or are they truly keeping track of their own and others’ behaviour in order to make decisions within a broader social dynamic?

Leave a Comment