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Primates. 1999 Jan;40(1):47-59. doi: 10.1007/BF02557701.

The value of grooming to female primates.

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Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Natal, 4041, Durban, Republic of South Africa,


Current socioecological models suggest that the structure of female-bonded primate groups is predicated on the need for coalitionary support in competitive interactions. Social grooming is thought to be the means by which females ensure support from other individuals, either by the direct exchange of grooming for aid or by using grooming as a means of strengthening social bonds. Since these relationships are valuable, they must be regularly serviced and must be repaired if they become damaged. We question this position and show that empirical evidence to support these theoretical arguments is lacking. We then go on to present a new framework in which the inconsistencies regarding grooming and relationship negotiation are interpreted in the context of individual decision-making processes. In this framework, primate groups represent biological markets in which individuals either trade grooming in a reciprocal manner for the direct benefits that grooming itself offers, or exchange it for tolerance by more powerful animals. A number of testable predictions are derived from this hypotheses. The need for socioecological studies to focus on the dynamics of individual relationships rather than using summary measures is emphasized since only a detailed knowledge of serial interaction will provide the key to understanding the complexities of individual decision-making processes.

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