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All social animals are presented with similar problems regarding within-group competition over resources and species are expected to have evolved mechanisms to cope with these problems. Reconciliation, post-conflict affiliative interaction between former opponents, is a major focus of nonhuman primate research and has been demonstrated in virtually all of the primate species in which it has been studied. Reconciliation is common in all three African Great Ape species and in humans but has not been demonstrated in orangutans.
The Valuable Relationships hypothesis (VR) is the dominant model for explaining the occurrence of reconciliation and argues that if conflict disturbs social bonds and post-conflict affiliation serves to repair those bonds, then individuals with valuable relationships are more likely to reconcile after conflicts. Reconciliation in bonobos, chimpanzees, and gorillas tends to take place between individuals with valuable relationships, i.e. frequent social partners. In bonobos, female-female and female-male dyads tend to reconcile at a higher rate than male-male dyads; in chimpanzees, male-male and female-male dyads tend to reconcile at a higher rate than female-female dyads; and in gorillas, female-male dyads are the only dyad type found to reconcile.
Reconciliation in the apes is effected through various affiliative contact behaviors, including: embracing, grooming, mounting, kissing, and other friendly body contacts. In bonobos, reconciliation is often effected through play and gential contacts.
The near ubiquity of reconciliation in the Great Apes, as well as the Primate order and other social living mammals, suggests that it is an important element of managing conflict and that it emerged early in primate evolution.
The difference in reconciliation between humans and other animals is likely in the rate of reconciliation and the mechanisms mediating the behavior. There is evidence for higher rates of reconciliation after conflicts between individuals with more cooperative relationships. Humans are obligate social creatures who engage in more complex forms of cooperation than any other species. By the above logic, we should find immediate and elaborate forms of reconciliation among groups of humans. Reconciliation is thought to be mediated by emotion.
Reconciliation, using the same ethological paradigm as other primate studies, has only been studied in industrial/post-industrial human societies (Japan, Russia, United States), however, it is expected to be present in all human populations and in all humans in a population. Reconciliation is a primary component of human morality and human ethical and religious beliefs. Reconciliatory tendencies are expected to appear very early in human development.
Reconciliation is expected in social species that form individualized relationships, experience intragroup aggression and loss of access to resources (food, mates, social partners) as a result of conflict (Aureli et al. 2002). Reconciliation is, therefore, expected to be widespread in social animals and has been demonstrated in a wide range of non-primate taxa, including: domestic dogs (Canis familiaris: Cools et al. 2008), wolves (Canis lupus: Cordoni and Palagi 2008), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta: Wahaj et al. 2001), domestic goats (Capra hircus: Schino 1998), domestic cats (Felis silvestrus catus: van den Bos 1997), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus: Weaver 2003), and monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus: Morrison 2009).
While reconciliation is an important mechanism for managing group-living, it does not appear to be a requirement. Reconciliation may be absent or uncommon in cooperatively breeding species that experience high predation pressures. Aggression in red-bellied tamarins (Saguinus labiatus) appears to have no impact on subsequent interactions with former opponents quickly resuming their pre-conflict activities (Schaffner et al. 2005). Marmosets and tamarins experience very high predation pressure in the wild and cooperate in the rearing of offspring which may account for the high degree of relationship security, i.e. resistance to damage, that they experience (Cords and Aureli 2000). Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) also do not appear to reconcile conflicts (Kutsukake and Clutton-Brock 2008). Aggression in meerkats tends to be followed by submission and avoidance by victims of aggression rather than preferential affiliative contacts or resumption of previous activities. Meerkats are a despotic species and dominance interactions appear to be the primary conflict management mechanism. This difference suggests that the flexibility, complexity, and degree of negotiation in relationships, in addition to social structure and ecological context, have a significant influence on the tendency for a species to engage in reconciliation.
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