Bonobos produce high-pitched “baby” cries when attacked to attract comfort from others

Bonobos cry like babies! Video reveals how adult monkeys produce high-pitched cries when attacked to increase their chances of being comforted by others

  • Bonobos strategically display their distress when attacked by other bonobos
  • This increases their chances of being comforted by other watching bonobos.
  • Adult bonobos usually stop signaling their distress when they receive help
  • Study shows emotional expressions can be used to pursue social goals

Bonobos are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, sharing around 98.7% of our DNA – and it seems they acquired a few human characteristics along the way.

A new study has found that monkeys produce high-pitched, “baby-like” cries when attacked, in order to attract comfort from others.

These displays of distress are strategic, increasing their chances of receiving consolation from passing bonobos, the scientists say.

They resemble those typically used by infants – such as pouts, moans and tantrums.

The study by psychologists at Durham University reveals that adult bonobos are also less likely to be reattacked by their former adversary when they display these “baby” signals following conflict.

Bonobos’ displays of distress resemble those typically used by infants – such as pouting, whining and tantrums

FEMALE BONOBOS ‘ADOPT’ ORPHANS FROM OTHER SOCIAL GROUPS

In an astonishing display of altruism, the woman bonobos monkeys will “adopt” and care for unrelated orphans from other social groups, according to a 2021 finding.

Researchers have witnessed two such adoptions from groups of endangered great apes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The monkeys have been seen carrying, grooming, nursing and nesting with their foster babies for periods of over 12 and 18 months, respectively.

The team used analyzes of fecal mitochondrial DNA samples to confirm that the adopted monkeys and their caregivers were definitely unrelated to the mother.

“Bonobos are very sensitive to social situations and who surrounds them,” said lead author Dr Raphaela Heesen.

“They have a rich emotional life and are able to communicate their emotional states in flexible ways to influence their group members.

“By using specifically ‘baby’ cues, bonobos could increase their chances of being comforted by others and alleviate their own stress levels following aggressive attacks.

“Our research shows that emotions and their expression not only play a role in regulating social life in our own species, but also in our closest living primate relatives.”

For years, scientists believed that great apes had no control over their emotional expressions. However, the new study, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions B, turns that idea on its head.

The Durham University team analyzed two groups comprising more than 40 individuals in the world’s only bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

They found that bonobos’ emotional expressions are not just readouts of their internal states, but can be used flexibly and strategically to pursue social goals – just like in humans.

The researchers observed how victims conveyed their feelings after a fight – and how this affected the responses of bystanders.

When animal cries resembled those of baby bonobos, they were more likely to attract sympathy.

Photographs illustrating the emotional expressions of bonobo victims following social conflicts, taken at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary.  a) Adult female victim crouching, teeth bared, facial expression/screaming vocalization, comforted by an adult woman;  b) Example of facial expression with bare teeth;  c) example of sulky expression;  d) example of victim's cry/bared teeth and spiky hair

Photographs illustrating the emotional expressions of bonobo victims following social conflicts, taken at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary. a) Adult female victim crouching, teeth bared, facial expression/screaming vocalization, comforted by an adult woman; b) Example of facial expression with bare teeth; c) example of sulky expression; d) example of victim’s cry/bared teeth and spiky hair

The researchers also found that bonobos are sensitive to their audience – producing more signals if more bonobos are nearby.

The study sheds new light on the evolutionary origins of communicating emotions.

Other great apes interpret calls based on the contexts in which they were made, requiring them to make intelligent inferences about meaning.

“Comforting a victim in distress has long been considered a form of bystander-initiated empathy,” said lead author Dr. Zanna Clay.

“However, our study reveals that the victim’s own cues can be used strategically to shape these responses.

“By producing signals that make them look more like children, bonobo victims can increase their chances of receiving comfort from others.

“This highlights the important role communication plays in shaping an empathetic response.”

WHAT COMMON GESTURES DO BONOBOS AND CHIMPANZEES USE TO COMMUNICATE?

If a bonobo and a chimpanzee met face to face, they could probably understand each other’s gestures, according to new research.

A study shows that chimpanzees and bonobos use gestures in a variety of different situations and for multiple purposes, such as to initiate and change position during grooming.

Certain gestures, however, arouse different reactions in chimpanzees and bonobos. Each gesture can have multiple meanings, but the most common of each gesture is listed below:

chimpanzees

Behavior: Meaning

  • Raising of the arms: Acquiring the object of another individual
  • Biped position: unknown
  • Big noisy scratch: initiate grooming
  • Push (directed): reposition
  • Grab: stop the behavior
  • Grab-pull: Get closer
  • Stroke (mouth blow): Acquiring the object of another individual
  • Present (climb): Climb on me
  • Present (genitals facing forward): initiate copulation
  • Present (grooming): initiate grooming
  • Tandem walk: Initiate grooming
  • Reach (palm): Acquire the object of another individual
  • Beckon: Come closer
  • Embrace: Contact
  • Thrust: initiate sex

bonobos

Behavior: Meaning

  • Raising arms: get on top of you
  • Biped position: initiate copulation
  • Big noisy scratch: initiate grooming
  • Push (directed): Get on me
  • Catch: Ride on me
  • Grab-pull: follow me
  • Stroke (mouth blow): Acquiring the object of another individual
  • Present (climb): Climb on me
  • Present (genitals forward): initiate genital-genital rubbing
  • Present (grooming): initiate grooming
  • Tandem walk: Initiate grooming
  • Reach (palm): Climb on me
  • Beckon: Come closer
  • Embrace: Contact
  • Thrust: initiate sex

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