The integration of dominance and social bonding in primates

Author(s): de Waal FB


Social dominance is usually viewed from the perspective of intragroup competition over access to limited resources. The present paper, while not denying the importance of such competition, discusses the dominance concept among monkeys and apes in the context of affiliative bonding, social tolerance, and the reconciliation of aggressive conflicts. Two basic proximate mechanisms are supposed to provide a link between dominance and interindividual affiliation, namely, formalization of the dominance relationship (i.e., unequivocal communication of status), and conditional reassurance (i.e., the linkage of friendly coexistence to formalization of the relationship). Ritualized submission is imposed upon losers of dominance struggles by winners; losers are offered a "choice" between continued hostility or a tolerant relationship with a clearly signalled difference in status. If these two social mechanisms are lacking, aggression is bound to have dispersive effects. In their presence, aggression becomes a well-integrated, even constructive component of social life. In some higher primates this process of integration has reached the stage where status differences are strongly attenuated. In these species, sharing and trading can take the place of overt competition. The views underlying this "reconciled hierarchy" model are only partly new, as is evident from a review of the ethological literature. Many points are illustrated with data on a large semi-captive colony of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), particularly data related to striving for status, reconciliation behavior, and general association patterns. These observations demonstrate that relationships among adult male chimpanzees cannot be described in terms of a dichotomy between affiliative and antagonistic tendencies. Male bonding in this species has not been achieved by an elimination of aggression, but by a set of powerful buffering mechanisms that mitigate its effects. Although female chimpanzees do exhibit a potential for bonding under noncompetitive conditions, they appear to lack the buffering mechanisms of the males.


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