New York: Often regarded as idle conversations in which people engage in to pass the time or kill an awkward silence, chitchat and small talk could be a social-bonding tool passed down from primates, new research suggests.
Social primates use vocalisations far more selectively than scientists previously thought, the researchers said.
They found that ringtailed lemurs (Lemur catta) living in groups primarily call and respond to the individuals with which they have close relationships.
While grooming is a common social-bonding experience for lemurs and other primates, the researchers found that lemurs reserved vocal exchanges for the animals that they groomed most frequently.
Lemurs vocalise to essentially "groom-at-a-distance" and keep in touch when the group members they are closest with get separated such as when foraging for food, said first author Ipek Kulahci, who received her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University in the US.
"Our results indicate that when animals respond to each other's vocalisations, they are in fact also working on maintaining their social bonds," Kulahci noted.
"By exchanging vocalisations, the animals are reinforcing their social bonds even when they are away from each other," Kulahci said.
"This social selectivity in vocalisations is almost equivalent to how we humans keep in regular touch with our close friends and families, but not with everyone we know," Kulahci explained.
The findings could have implications for how scientists understand the evolution of primate vocalisations and human speech, the researchers said.
The findings appeared in the journal Animal Behaviour.