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Chimps consol each other after fighting -

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Chimps consol each other after fighting

Orlaith Fraser has studied post-conflict behaviour in chimpanzees, looking at how friendly
interactions after a conflict can mitigate the costs of aggression. Hugging and embracing by chimps
after fighting reduces their stress levels and calms them down. In chimps, this is indicated by the
degree of scratching and grooming. Her research was conducted at Chester Zoo. The behaviour also
occurs in the wild.


Robyn Williams: With me is Dr Orlaith Fraser. Now, Orlaith is a wonderful name, where does it come

Orlaith Fraser: It's an Irish name.

Robyn Williams: And you study chimpanzees and (let's get this right) consolation behaviour. In
other words, making upset chimps feel better when they've had a fight.

Orlaith Fraser: We've just shown that this behaviour; actually approaching a victim after a fight
and hugging them or embracing them; reduces their stress levels and calms them down. This is the
first time that we've actually been able to show that this behaviour has this calming function.

Robyn Williams: Where did you do this study amongst the chimps? In the wild?

Orlaith Fraser: No, this is actually done in captivity at Chester Zoo on 22 adult chimpanzees
housed there.

Robyn Williams: I suppose you got to know them quite well over the 18 months with names and so on?

Orlaith Fraser: Yes, I know them very well, better than my own family sometimes.

Robyn Williams: What kind of pattern did you get? Was it just the family consoling its relatives or
was it amongst mates?

Orlaith Fraser: It was mainly, yes, between friends. So those individuals who shared food with each
other or spent time grooming each other were more likely to offer this consolation.

Robyn Williams: In what kind of situations did it occur?

Orlaith Fraser: It could be a fight between two chimpanzees, it could be over anything such as
somebody sitting in your place, perhaps, it might be over a female, more likely. This can range in
how aggressive it is; they might hit each other, bite each other, trample on each other. It's all
very noisy with chimpanzees and doesn't really involve that much actual aggression, it's mainly for
show. But after this fight the victim can be really quite stressed, it's worrying after a fight has
taken place. So you might have a third party, somebody who wasn't involved in the fight will
approach the victim and then actually console them by embracing them and hugging them and reducing
their stress, calming them down again.

Robyn Williams: How do you know it calms them down and reduces stress?

Orlaith Fraser: We looked at their levels of self-directed behaviour, levels of scratching or
self-grooming. Just as in humans, if you get very nervous you might perhaps scratch your head, you
might bite your nails. In chimpanzees you can also do very similar behaviour. So they scratch more
when they're stressed. So we looked at how often they scratched after a fight and then we looked at
what happened after they were consoled and we found that their levels of scratching were actually
reduced back to normal levels after this consolation had taken place.

Robyn Williams: This means that chimps could actually recognise distress. They have a sort of
theory of mind perhaps?

Orlaith Fraser: Yes, it suggests that they're able to recognise distress and to know what to do in
order to relieve that stress. So it's possible that this is actually an expression of empathy, that
they're able to do something to console another individual.

Robyn Williams: Do they do this in the wild as well?

Orlaith Fraser: Yes, they do this in the wild as well.

Robyn Williams: Presumably from your name you come from Ireland?

Orlaith Fraser: My mother comes from Ireland I was actually brought up in Luxembourg.

Robyn Williams: I see. How long have you been in Liverpool?

Orlaith Fraser: The last four years.

Robyn Williams: And would you accept that it's a 'capital of culture'?

Orlaith Fraser: I think it is, I think it's done a very good job this year of actually showing how
cultural it is. There has been a tremendous amount of cultural events put on for this particular
year. Yes, I think we should be proud of our capital of culture this year.

Robyn Williams: Yes, it's a very lively town, I must say, and it's appropriate that our first
discussion should be about creating loving care. I wonder whether this was an evolutionary way that
led to us, the way that we can recognise distress and do something about it, so you actually make
society cohere rather than fall apart.

Orlaith Fraser: It seems that way, yes. These chimpanzees behave the same way small children do. So
it seems as if it has evolved very early on in that our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, can
perform these behaviours just as we do, and indeed this is an important part of keeping groups
together. Groups need to stay together in order to find food together and to protect themselves
from predators. So this is all part of an important way of stopping fights from escalating and
causing damage to relationships.

Robyn Williams: And of course the first about this is that you've shown it reduces distress, but
this kind of behaviour does occur in other creatures, does it?

Orlaith Fraser: It does, yes, it also occurs in bonobos who are equally closely related to us, and
in gorillas. Recently it's been shown in rooks and in dogs as well actually, though we don't know
that it actually reduces distress in those species.

Robyn Williams: Isn't it interesting, rooks, the crow family, which is shown more and more to have
this amazing intelligence.

Orlaith Fraser: Indeed, they're very intelligent animals and it's fascinating. In fact one of my
next steps is to look at whether this behaviour occurs in ravens, also a clever member of the
corvid species.

Robyn Williams: From John Moores University in Liverpool, Orlaith, thank you very much.

Orlaith Fraser: Thank you.