Bystanders affect the outcome of mother–infant interactions in rhesus macaques
Animal communication involves the transfer of information between a sender and one or more receivers. However, such interactions do not happen in a social vacuum; third parties are typically present, who can potentially eavesdrop upon or intervene in the interaction.
The importance of such bystanders in shaping the outcome of communicative interactions has been widely studied in humans, but has only recently received attention in other animal species. Here, we studied bouts of infant crying among rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) in order to investigate how the presence of bystanders may affect the outcome of this signalling interaction between infants and mothers. It was hypothesized that, as crying is acoustically aversive, bystanders may be aggressive to the mother or the infant in order to bring the crying bout to a close. Consequently, it was predicted that mothers should acquiesce more often to crying if in the presence of potentially aggressive animals. In line with this prediction, it was found that mothers gave infants access to the nipple significantly more often when crying occurred in the presence of animals that posed a high risk of aggression towards them. Both mothers and infants tended to receive more aggression from bystanders during crying bouts than outside of this time, although such aggression was extremely rare and was received by less than half of the mothers and infants in the study. Mothers were also found to be significantly more aggressive to their infants while the latter were crying than outside of crying bouts. These results provide new insight into the complex dynamics of mother–offspring conflict, and indicate that bystanders may play an important role in shaping the outcome of signalling interactions between infants and their mothers.
Title: Bystanders affect the outcome of mother–infant interactions in rhesus macaques
Authors: Stuart Semple, Melissa S. Gerald and Dianne N. Suggs
Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2009, volume 276, nr 1665