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Grooming, alliances and reciprocal altruism in vervet monkeys


Reciprocal altruism refers to the exchange of beneficial acts between individuals, in which the benefits to the recipient exceed the cost to the altruist. Theory predicts that cooperation among unrelated animals can occur whenever individuals encounter each other regularly and are capable of adjusting their cooperative behaviour according to experience1. Although the potential for reciprocal altruism exists in many animal societies, most interactions occur between closely related individuals, and examples of reciprocity among non-kin are rare2,3. The field experiments on vervet monkeys which we present here demonstrate that grooming between unrelated individuals increases the probability that they will subsequently attend to each others' solicitations for aid. Vervets appear to be more willing to aid unrelated individuals if those individuals have behaved affinitively toward them in the recent past. In contrast, recent grooming between close genetic relatives appears to have no effect on their willingness to respond to each other's solicitations for aid.

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Seyfarth, R., Cheney, D. Grooming, alliances and reciprocal altruism in vervet monkeys. Nature 308, 541–543 (1984).

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