Natural Conflict Resolution (2)

I took a short break from this book, but now I’ve started reading it again and I’ll probably finish it later today. Here’s the first post I wrote about the book. This is not going to be the last post about the book and I still have some chapters to go, so I’ll refrain from passing judgment on it just yet; but I must say that I find the book very interesting, and based on the coverage so far I’d probably give it four stars. It’s a bit too speculative at times, but aside from that it’s really good. People with a ‘science approach’ to life and other stuff may say that ‘we’re just apes’ (or ‘monkeys’, if they’re confused about the terminology), but precisely what this actually implies may even so still not be completely clear to them, because most people probably don’t know a great deal about how, say, chimpanzees behave and live their lives. This book will enlighten you about some of the ways in which common human behavioural patterns have close analogues in other species, and some of the patterns will probably surprise you (…and fascinate you, if you’re like me). We really are quite a bit like those other guys, in ways many of us probably have never even thought about. The book has certainly tempted me to explore the field of ethology in more detail later on.

Before moving on to the main coverage I feel the need to once again (I did this in my first post about the book as well) point out that this book is not in any way a book about strategies for how to make your aggressive colleague back off, or something like that. Quite a few of the chapters of this book are about conflict resolution/conflict management behaviours and strategies seen applied by primates in nature, and none of them are about behavioural strategies applied in the office. You’ll probably gain some valuable insights as to how humans may behave in a conflict setting as well from the book, but how many such insights you’ll take away from the book will surely depend on how confident you feel about extrapolating and drawing inferences from studies conducted on members of species related to us. There’s stuff on humans as well – there was indeed enough of that kind of stuff in the first part of the book for me to have no problem limiting my coverage in the first post about the book to the results of studies on humans alone – but the focus is decidedly different from the focus I imagine people are forced to apply when participating e.g. in anger management classes; this book is a different kettle of fish, this is mainly about understanding why animals behave the way they do, and specifically it is about understanding how they deal with conflict.

I have added some stuff from the book below. There’s a lot of good stuff in this book.

“Displacement activities are behavior patterns (often body care activities) exhibited by an animal that are “apparently irrelevant” to its ongoing activity […] and are thought to occur in situations of motivational conflict. […] displacement activities may be used as a behavioral measure of anxiety […] [Reviewing our results] [t]wo patterns emerge […] First, all group-living species show increased post-conflict affiliation between former opponents; second, all species for which information is available show increased post-conflict displacement activities. Out of four non-primate species studied thus far—the bottlenose dolphin, spotted hyena, domestic goat, and domestic cat—only the last did not show any evidence of post-conflict affiliation between former opponents. Dolphins, hyenas, and goats are all group-living animals that form stable social groups or fission/fusion societies […]. The domestic cat, on the contrary, is an opportunistic species that may aggregate at rich food sources (as seems to be the case for urban stray cats) but probably cannot be considered as a truly social species […]. Accordingly, cats lack the mechanisms of conflict regulation typical of social species […]. The observation of post-conflict affiliation in species as phylogenetically distant as primates, dolphins, hyenas, and goats implies that conflict-regulation mechanisms must have evolved independently several times in association with the rise of social life. Whether group life and the consequent inevitable frictions are invariably linked to the evolution of conflict-regulation mechanisms or whether only a fraction of group-living species have evolved post-conflict conciliatory behaviors is a question that awaits further theoretical […] and empirical studies. […] The observation of conciliatory behaviors in species that differ widely in their cognitive capacities suggests that reconciliation does not require special abilities such as introspection and self-awareness but that good memory and individual recognition probably suffice (see de Waal & Yoshihara 1983). Obviously, stating that high cognitive abilities are not necessary does not imply that they cannot actually be involved in the process of reconciliation, at least in a few species. In other words, it is unlikely that the cognitive mechanisms underlying reconciliation are entirely the same in goats and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Similar functions do not imply similar mechanisms. […] All species for which information is available (several primates, goats, and cats) show an increase in the frequency of displacement activities after a conflict. Furthermore, in both goats and primates reconciliation caused a faster return of displacement activities to their baseline frequency. These results suggest that the post-conflict increase in displacement activities may be a general phenomenon and that one of the functions of post-conflict friendly reunions may be a reduction in the anxiety and arousal experienced by the recipient of aggression (see Aureli & Smucny, Chapter 10). […] cognitive or ecological constraints may […] limit the complexities of the social life of non-primates, but we are certainly very far from having identified such limits.”

“Across the five cultures girls and boys did not differ significantly in their peacemaking tendency […]. However, girls and boys sometimes differed in the acts and gestures they used to make peace. […] Acting silly to make others laugh may be a male strategy […] girls may be especially responsive to clowning by boys. Research in adults has shown that women laugh and smile more often when they are observers rather than actors, especially when the speaker is male (Provine 1993). […] Children classified as acquaintances interact differently than those classified as friends. […] acquaintances engaged in more intense conflicts and were less likely to use conciliatory resolution strategies than friends. The distinction between friends and acquaintances is thus an important one. […] Perhaps the simplest way of explaining [the] results is to suggest that both interactions and relationships matter to young children and that young children’s peacemaking reflects children’s motivation to repair damage to both. Friends may be motivated to protect their existing relationship from damage caused by conflict, whereas nonfriends may be motivated to restore peaceful interaction simply because playing together is more fun than playing alone. […] Our studies [on children] showed that reunions between former opponents generally occurred within the first two minutes after the end of the conflict. This timing is remarkably similar to the timing of post-conflict peacemaking in most nonhuman primate species”

“Tantrums are a common, if not ubiquitous, phenomenon of early childhood. Tantrums also occur in infant and juvenile nonhuman primates […]. Trivers (1985) proposes that tantrums may be a solution to a basic intergenerational conflict: the young benefit by maintaining parental nurturance as long as possible while parents’ inclusive fitness is eventually better served in other ways. When a juvenile primate has a tantrum following maternal rejection (e.g., while being weaned), its mother usually accepts it […]. Historically, the “terrible twos” are the age of weaning in Western culture, as it remains in other cultures to this day. A disposition to have tantrums that develop at an age when weaning occurred over most of human history might well reflect an evolutionary strategy to retain parental attention. […] the majority of post-tantrum reconciliations are initiated by the child. […] The great similarity between children’s temper tantrums and those of young primates, and the similarity in response by the caregiver (initial distancing but eventual affiliation), suggest a shared developmental underpinning of reconciliation.”

“if a conflict-provoking situation arises between two animals and one grooms the other, then aggression may be less likely than when no affiliative behavior is exchanged. One method for evaluating such conflict management is to observe primate groups in contexts known to increase social tension and the potential for aggression. If submission, tension-regulating behavior, and friendly responses increase in such competitive situations, then animals may be attempting to reduce escalation of conflict. Two such contexts have been investigated in primate groups: scheduled feeding and crowding. Scheduled feeding of provisioned groups produces a tense situation in anticipation of competition for food and does elicit attempts to reduce conflict beforehand […]. Crowding produces another situation in which increased competition for space produces a context in which aggression may be reduced through behavioral mechanisms. With respect to crowding, two main questions arise: Does crowding increase aggression, and do animals modify behavior under crowded conditions to reduce the potential for conflict? The answer to both questions is a qualified yes”

“In addition to post-conflict reconciliation (the focus of many chapters in this volume), nonhuman primates also use other, more powerful pre-conflict methods to maintain peace and harmony within their group. They adopt specific strategies to dissipate tension and reduce conflict before it erupts, suggesting that they possess the ability to anticipate these events and plan their behavior accordingly […] it may be naive to expect a simple relationship between density and aggression in primates because primates have complex and flexible social behavior and advanced cognitive abilities. They do not react passively to changing situations, such as increases in density, but may actively change their behavior to cope with adverse situations. […] Results indicate that different species may have unique reactions to short-term crowding and that more than one strategy may be used in response to increased density […] there is evidence that primates adopt different strategies (e.g., inhibition, conflict avoidance, or tension reduction) depending on the duration of crowding, the species studied, and the individual characteristics of the interacting partners (i.e., the age, sex, and kinship of particular dyads). […] Mongoose responses to crowding indicate that species other than primates modify behavior under high density and that the behavioral changes may be adaptive strategies to manage conflict. […] The behavioral reactions of humans to crowding are variable […], but the most common result is an increase in aggression […] and a decrease in affiliative interactions under higher density […] The decrease in social interaction has generally been interpreted as a withdrawal strategy to cope with the increased social stimulation at higher density […]. Remarkably, the pattern of response is quite similar to the conflict-avoidance strategy observed in macaques under short-term crowding […] individuals differ in their responses to crowding. Increased aggression during crowding appears to be more likely in males than in females […] Individual personality traits may also influence reactions to crowding. […] Such differential effects preclude describing a singular human pattern of response to crowding. […] [the results] appear to show some behavioral similarities between humans and other animals. Freedman (1979) argues that we should not assume that the reactions of human and non-human primates to crowding differ until data indicate otherwise.”

“young animals especially are highly motivated to form attachments for their own safety, and when they perceive themselves to be at risk, they react strongly when separated from attachment figures. Although a dramatic protest-despair reaction may be less marked in older individuals whose attachments are less strong […], we think that even among adults there are likely to be detectable signs of distress upon separation, and relief from distress upon reunion, when an individual values its relationship with a particular partner. Indeed, Cubicciotti & Mason (1975) showed such effects in adult titi and squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus) pair mates that were separated from each other for only 90 minutes and then reunited. Similarly, adult humans with close relationships often report emotional reactions (such as loneliness, anxiety, or even despair) to physical separation (Feeny 1998). […] Studies of attachment in humans have used mother-infant separations and reunions as a way of assessing the security of the attachment bond. The separation is itself a stressful experience for the infant, and the infant’s response to separation, and especially reunion with the mother, is characteristically different for infants with secure versus ambivalent attachments […]. Analogous results have been reported for nonhuman primates (e.g., Dettling et al. 1998).”

“[We embrace] MacLean’s (1952) view of emotions as brain functions involved in maintaining individual survival. His evolutionary approach to brain anatomy led him to point out that emotions are not uniquely human traits because most of the brain structures involved in emotions are essentially the same in all mammals and perhaps in all vertebrates. Escaping from danger, for example, is a basic survival response for all animals. […] MacLean’s conceptual framework is still at the basis of the current evolutionary view of emotion (LeDoux 1996), and significant advances in neurophysiology have supported this view […] [An] important class of indicators of emotion is self-directed behavior, such as self-touch, self-scratching, and self-grooming. Apart from the hygienic function of self-directed behaviors, recent ethological studies on nonhuman primates have documented their occurrence in situations of uncertainty, social tension, or impending danger […]. Similarly, high levels of self-directed behavior are characteristic of humans experiencing anxiety […] Measures of variation in hormones and neurotransmitters associated with the stress response (e.g., cortisol, norepinephrine) have provided biological support for individual differences in emotional profiles of children, baboons, and macaques […] Behavioral indicators of anxiety […] increase in frequency under […] conditions that are associated with high risk of aggressive conflict. In captive group-living chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) vocalizations of neighboring groups increase the likelihood of intragroup aggression and, as a consequence, are followed by higher rates of self-scratching”

“Testosterone may influence aggressive tendencies, and serotonin may regulate the threshold and intensity of the behavioral expression of aggression. Individuals with low serotonin levels exhibit impaired impulse control and a low threshold to escalate when facing potential conflict […] Territorial disputes occur naturally in the wild in many species, and when staged in laboratories, they result in marked physiological differences between winners and losers. For example, the levels of hormones associated with the stress response, such as glucocorticoids, are higher in losers than in winners after dyadic confrontations in a variety of species (e.g., swordtail fish, […] guinea pigs […], tree shrews […] In rats (Rattus norvegicus) differences between winners and losers may persist for several hours, even when the two opponents are separated from each other after the encounter […] Interestingly, hostile behavior during marital conflict in otherwise happy human couples produces changes in blood pressure, immunological function, and hormonal concentration typical of the stress response […] Even if overt aggression is reduced by establishing dominance relationships, conflicts of interest are usually not resolved in favor of subordinate individuals. In addition, subordinates have less control over the social environment and are strongly constrained in their actions. Accordingly, dominant and subordinate individuals differ in their physiological states […] evidence from different sources supports the view that reconciliation has an emotional impact by reducing post-conflict anxiety. […] there is now evidence from a number of different species that many of the most common vocalizations given by nonhuman primates function to initiate and facilitate social interactions. Playback experiments with adult female baboons have demonstrated that vocalizations also serve to diminish the strength of recipients’ responses to former aggressors’ potentially threatening behavior. Most important, apparently reconciliatory vocalizations influence recipients’ willingness to approach and be approached by former aggressors.”

“The tendency of human beings to respond with distress to the end of a close relationship is a consistent phenomenon across different cultures and across the age span […]. Recent social psychology studies have concluded that threats to social bonds are a primary source of anxiety […] and that social exclusion is probably the most common cause of anxiety […]. Behavioral and physiological responses to the disturbance and restoration of social relationships emerge early in life. These responses have been extensively studied in nonhuman primates through experimental manipulations of the mother-infant relationship […] disturbance through experimental separation provokes strong responses, such as increased plasma cortisol and heart rate, in the infant and the mother; reunions of mothers with their infants restore their physiological responses to baseline [in both nonhuman primates and rodents] […]. Similar physiological changes also are found when adults of established pairs of the monogamous titi monkeys (Callicebus moloch) are separated from each other […], suggesting that the disruption of strong bonds has similar effects throughout the life span. […] The marked stress response normally evoked by stimuli, such as exposure to novel environments or objects, exposure to naturally occurring predators (e.g., snakes), or separation of infants from their mothers, is buffered by the presence of familiar conspecifics”

“The mediation of reunions and other forms of conflict resolution does not need to involve only “negative” emotions, such as anxiety, fear, or distress. Conflict resolution often occurs through affiliative contacts that are likely to be associated with positive sensations. Gentle touching causes relaxation and a reduction in heart rate in humans, rhesus monkeys, and horses […] Allogrooming in monkeys decreases heart rate […] Although the actions of endogenous brain opioids affect and are affected by several hormones and neurotransmitters, their involvement in mother-infant attachment and separation distress is certain […]. The experience of separation distress likely provides the basic motivation for social reunion, and the subsequent opioid release alleviates separation distress, replacing it with positive sensations. This is probably also true for relationships between adults. For example, adult talapoin monkeys (Miopithecus talapoin) that have been socially isolated show a significant increase in brain opioids following affiliative behavior with their peers upon reunion […] The perspective of emotional mediation of social processes, including conflict resolution, does not require the identification of specific humanlike emotions, especially when the conscious feeling is not considered. It is only necessary to characterize the conditions (e.g., post-escalation relationship disturbance), the various changes (e.g., increased self-scratching), and the factors affecting them (e.g., relationship quality). […] this perspective can explain the effects of relationship quality on reconciliation without necessarily implying conscious knowledge of relationship value.”

June 22, 2014 - Posted by | Anthropology, Biology, Books, Evolutionary biology, Psychology, Zoology

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