Monkey’s fighting behaviour could give insights into human wars
London: A study on monkeys’ choices while deciding to fight or remaining at peace could help shed light on human wars, says a new study.
Competition for resources is often assumed to be a main cause of conflict in both humans and other animals, says Jessica Flack at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, but that might be wrong, reports New Scientist.
"We find that fighting is based on memories of what other individuals did last,” she added.
The researchers analysed data from 160 days of field observations of a group of 84 pigtailed macaques at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
The team paid particular attention to which animals fought and how long each fight lasted.
Instead of explaining the monkey''s fighting ways by dreaming up a strategy based, for example, on the reward value of winning a fight for food or a mate, the researchers decided to look for strategies suggested by the data alone.
They made no assumption about the reasons for the monkeys'' behaviour and looked only at patterns of behaviour leading up to fights.
Thus, they could determine the relative importance of the factors that led up to a fight.
They found that the strategy that best explained involvement in a fight was one in which decisions were based on the presence or absence of pairs of other monkeys.
This suggests that social dynamics play a central role.
Flack said that previous work has shown that monkeys often react to changes in the social structure of their group.
A monkey might decide to fight because a rival was gaining dominance, for example, or to defend another monkey that they wanted to make into an ally.
The new finding that previous conflicts shape future decisions suggests that fights may not be directly linked to immediate competition for resources.
However, in the long term, the motivations behind the strategy are linked to the fight for status and the access to resources that status brings, said Flack.
A better understanding of the real-world strategies used by monkeys could help predict the shape of future conflicts.