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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2006 Mar;129(3):418-26.

Social play in bonobos (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Implications for natural social systems and interindividual relationships.

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Centro Interdipartimentale Museo di Storia Naturale e del Territorio, Università di Pisa, 56011 Calci (Pisa), Italy.


This study compares adult play behavior in the two Pan species in order to test the effects of phylogenetic closeness and the nature of social systems on play distribution. The social play (both with fertile and immature subjects) performed by adults did not differ between the two species. In contrast, in bonobos, play levels among fertile subjects were higher than in chimpanzees. Findings regarding levels of undecided conflicts (more frequent in bonobos) and formal submission displays (lacking in bonobos) confirm, in the two colonies under study, that bonobos exhibit "egalitarianism" more than chimpanzees. Some authors emphasized the importance of play-fighting for social assessment when relationships among individuals are not codified and structured according to rank-rules. Indeed, adult bonobos played more roughly than chimpanzees. Moreover, adult bonobos displayed the full play-face at a high frequency especially during rough play sessions, whereas in chimpanzees, the frequency of play signals was not affected by roughness of play. The frequency of social play among bonobo females was higher than in any other sex combinations, whereas no difference was found for chimpanzees. As a matter of fact, social play can be viewed as a balance between cooperation and competition. Among bonobo females, characterized by social competence and affiliation, social play might enhance their behavioral flexibility and increase their socially symmetrical relationships which, after all, are the basis for their egalitarian society.

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