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Bonobos and chimpanzees remember familiar conspecifics for decades

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Recognition and memory of familiar conspecifics provides the foundation for complex sociality and is vital to navigating an unpredictable social world [Tibbetts and Dale, Trends Ecol. Evol. 22, 529-537 (2007)]. Human social memory incorporates content about interactions and relationships and can last for decades [Sherry and Schacter, Psychol. Rev. 94, 439-454 (1987)]. Long-term social memory likely played a key role throughout human evolution, as our ancestors increasingly built relationships that operated across distant space and time [Malone et al., Int. J. Primatol. 33, 1251-1277 (2012)]. Although individual recognition is widespread among animals and sometimes lasts for years, little is known about social memory in nonhuman apes and the shared evolutionary foundations of human social memory. In a preferential-looking eye-tracking task, we presented chimpanzees and bonobos (N = 26) with side-by- side images of a previous groupmate and a conspecific stranger of the same sex. Apes' attention was biased toward former groupmates, indicating long-term memory for past social partners. The strength of biases toward former groupmates was not impacted by the duration apart, and our results suggest that recognition may persist for at least 26 y beyond separation. We also found significant but weak evidence that, like humans, apes may remember the quality or content of these past relationships: apes' looking biases were stronger for individuals with whom they had more positive histories of social interaction. Long-lasting social memory likely provided key foundations for the evolution of human culture and sociality as they extended across time, space, and group boundaries. © 2023 the Author(s).
Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue: 52
Volume: 120
Pages: e2304903120
Publication year:2023
Keywords:Animals, Hominidae, Humans, Pan paniscus, Pan troglodytes, Recognition, Psychology, Social Behavior