It is no secret to anyone in primatology that there are certain terminologies to avoid when explaining behavior. There are terms that evoke a anthropomorphized rhetoric when used and tend to bring questions into the observer and the behavior in question. One of those terms that have been argued for years now is the “F-word”–no, not fudge–friendship.
In an article published in Current Biology, Joan Silk and her colleagues have discovered that “friendship” has an added value aside from affiliative (and less stressful) interactions in female baboons: longer lives and more surviving offspring. And this isn’t particularly surprising: affiliative behaviors such as grooming tends to remove less insects which can carry diseases, individuals are more likely to look after one another and potentially allomother their offspring to allow the mother to forage and produce more milk as well. Also mentioned in the article is the belief that this contributes to fitness by resting further away from other animals, thus, serving as protection from predator.
Moreover, “friendship” also plays a role when these guys attempt to forage in other manners: carjacking.
Regardless, I’m not sure entirely how I feel about the term; I understand that it does have some anthropomorphic meaning–but when placed in the context of survival and evolution with the evidence produced by Silk and colleagues, I can’t particularly think of a better word to describe the behavior (though, this may be because I’m a naive, young undergraduate.) What do you think? Is “friendship” too anthropomorphic? Or does it have validity?
Joan B. Silk, Jacinta C. Beehner, Thore J. Bergman, Catherine Crockford, Anne L. Engh, Liza R. Moscovice, Roman M. Wittig, Robert M. Seyfarth, and Dorothy L. Cheney. Strong and Consistent Social Bonds Enhance the Longevity of Female Baboons. Current Biology, July 1, 2010 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.05.067