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J Comp Psychol. 2004 Mar;118(1):20-4.

Observing conspecifics scratching induces a contagion of scratching in Japanese monkeys (Macaca fuscata).

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Department of Social Behaviour, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Aichi, Japan.


Although a large number of studies have examined self-directed behaviors (SDBs) such as scratching and self-grooming as nonverbal leakage of negative emotional arousal in humans, few studies have investigated the informative function of SDBs in nonhuman primates. The present study investigated whether viewing another monkey scratching itself elicited negative arousal from conspecific observers in Japanese monkeys (Macaca fuscata). An experimental situation was created in which the target monkey watched a stranger through a small peephole and the observer monkey(s) watched the target in turn. Scratching spread when conspecific observers watched the target scratching itself while performing monitoring behavior. The author proposes that the possible contagion of scratching by monkeys observing another's scratching may involve transmission of a psychological state, a primitive style of empathy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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