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Bonobos produce high-pitched 'baby-like' cries when they are attacked to attract comfort from others

Bonobos cry just like babies! Video shows adult monkeys produce high-pitched screams when attacked to increase their chances of being comforted by others

  • Bonobos show strategic distress when attacked by other bonobos
  • This increases their chances of being comforted by other bonobos watching
  • Adult bonobos usually stop signaling their distress when they receive support
  • Research shows that emotional expressions can be used to pursue social goals

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Bonobos are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, sharing about 98.7 percent of our DNA — and it seems they’ve picked up a few human-like features along the way.

A new study has revealed that the monkeys produce high-pitched “baby-like” cries when attacked, to attract solace from others.

These displays of distress are strategic and increase their chances of getting solace from bonobo bystanders, scientists argue.

They resemble those of infants, such as pouting, whining, and showing tantrums.

Research by psychologists at Durham University shows that adult bonobos are also less likely to be attacked again by their former adversary when they display these “baby-like” cues after conflict.

Bonobos' expressions of fear resemble those of infants - such as pouting, whining, and showing tantrums

Bonobos’ expressions of fear resemble those of infants – such as pouting, whining, and showing tantrums

‘ADOPTING’ FEMALE BONOBOS BEING FROM OTHER SOCIAL GROUPS

In an astonishing display of altruism, female bonobo monkeys will “adopt” and care for unrelated orphans from other social groups, 2021 shows.

Researchers witnessed two such adoptions among groups of the endangered great apes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The monkeys were seen carrying, nursing, feeding and nesting with their adopted children for periods of more than 12 and 18 months, respectively.

The team used analyzes of fecal mitochondrial DNA samples to confirm that the adopted monkeys and their caretakers were absolutely not maternal relatives.

“Bonobos are very sensitive to social situations and those around them,” said lead author Dr Raphaela Heesen.

They have rich emotional lives and are able to communicate their emotional states in flexible ways to influence their group members.

“By using specifically “baby-like” cues, bonobos can increase their chances of being comforted by others and reduce their own stress levels after aggressive attacks.

“Our research shows that emotions and their expression play a role in the regulation of social life not only in our own species, but also in our closest living primate relatives.”

For years, scientists believed that great apes had no control over their emotional expressions. However, the new study, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions B, turns that idea on its head.

The team from the University of Durham analyzed two groups comprising more than 40 individuals at the world’s only bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

They found that bonobos’ expressions of emotions are not just a representation of their internal state, but can be used in flexible and strategic ways to pursue social goals – just like in humans.

The researchers observed how victims communicated their feelings after a fight – and how this affected the reactions of bystanders.

When the animals’ calls resembled those of baby bonobos, they were more likely to arouse sympathy.

Photos of emotional expressions of bonobo victims after social conflict, taken at the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.  a) Adult female victim crouching with bared teeth facial expression/scream vocalization comforted by an adult female;  b) Example of facial expression with bared teeth;  c) example of a pout expression;  d) example of victim's screams/bared teeth plus tangled hair

Photos of emotional expressions of bonobo victims after social conflict, taken at the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.  a) Adult female victim crouching with bared teeth facial expression/scream vocalization comforted by an adult female;  b) Example of facial expression with bared teeth;  c) example of a pout expression;  d) example of victim's screams/bared teeth plus tangled hair

Photos of emotional expressions of bonobo victims after social conflict, taken at the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary. a) Adult female victim crouching with bared teeth facial expression/scream vocalization comforted by an adult female; b) Example of facial expression with bared teeth; c) example of a pout expression; d) example of victim’s screams/bared teeth plus tangled hair

The researchers also found that bonobos are sensitive to their audience — they produce more signals when more bonobos are around.

The study sheds new light on the evolutionary origins of communicating emotions.

Other great apes interpret the calls based on the context in which they are made, forcing them to make intelligent conclusions about the meaning.

“Comforting a victim in need has long been considered a form of empathy initiated by the bystander,” says senior author Dr. Zanna Clay.

“However, our research shows that the victim’s own signals can be used strategically to shape these responses.

“By sending cues that make them more like babies, bonobo victims can increase the likelihood of getting comfort from others.”

“This highlights the important role communication plays in shaping empathic response.”

WHAT COMMON GESTURES DO BONOBOS AND CHIMPS USE TO COMMUNICATE?

If a bonobo and a chimpanzee met face to face, they could likely understand each other’s gestures, according to new research.

A study shows that chimpanzees and bonobos use gestures in different situations and for multiple purposes, such as initiating and changing posture while grooming.

However, some gestures elicit different responses in chimpanzees and bonobos. Each gesture can have more than one meaning, but the most common of each gesture is listed below:

chimpanzees

Behavior: Meaning

  • Arm Raise: Get an object from another individual
  • Bipedal Stance: Unknown
  • Big Loud Scratch: Start Grooming
  • Push (Aim): Reposition
  • Grab: Stop behavior
  • Grab pull: get closer
  • Stroke (mouth blow): get an object from another individual
  • Present (climb on): Climb on me
  • Present (genitals forward): Initiate copulation
  • Present (grooming): Start caring
  • Tandem Walk: Start Trimming
  • Scope (palm): get object from another individual
  • Hints: Come closer
  • Hug: Contact
  • Thrust: Start Sex

Bonobos

Behavior: Meaning

  • Arm up: Climb on you
  • Bipedal Stand: Start Copulation
  • Big Loud Scratch: Start Grooming
  • Push (directed): Climb on me
  • Grab: climb on me
  • Grab pull: Follow me
  • Stroke (mouth blow): get an object from another individual
  • Present (climb on): Climb on me
  • Present (genitals forward): Begin genital-genital rubbing
  • Present (grooming): Start caring
  • Tandem Walk: Start Trimming
  • Reach (palm): Climb on me
  • Hints: Come closer
  • Hug: Contact
  • Thrust: Start Sex

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