Bonobos make “baby-like” signals to seek consolation from others

Durham University


Pioneering academics from our top-rated Psychology Department have found in their study that bonobos produce a variety of signals including “baby-like” signals to strategically display distress when they are attacked by other bonobos.

The researchers carried out this study at the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the world’s only bonobo sanctuary.

“Baby-like” signals

The researchers examined how bonobo victims communicate about their distress after a fight, and whether these signals affect the responses of bonobo bystanders.

They found that when the bonobos produce certain types of signals of their emotional distress, they have higher chances of being comforted by other bonobos watching.

These signals resemble those typically used by baby bonobos such as pouting, whimpering and showing tantrums.

The study reveals that adult bonobos are less likely to be re-attacked by their former opponent when they display these “baby-like” signals following a conflict.

Bonobos are sensitive

The researchers further discovered that bonobos are sensitive to their audience.

Bonobos display longer signals in general if more bonobos in the social audience are nearby, suggesting they adapt their signals depending on how many bonobos are nearby.

The researchers found evidence in their study that bonobos can strategically and flexibly use emotion expressions to pursue social goals, including during a fight.

This project was conducted by members of the Comparative and Cross-Cultural Development Lab led by Dr Zanna Clay.

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