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Evaluating self-directed behaviours and their association with emotional arousal across two cognitive tasks in bonobos (**Pan paniscus**)

Journal Contribution - e-publication

Simple Summary Self-directed behaviours (SDBs), such as self-scratching or self-touching, are commonly used as indicators of stress or poor welfare in animals. However, whether these behaviours truly reflect stress may depend on individual behaviour, species, context, and to which side of the body they are directed. Namely, one idea is that negative emotions are processed more frequently in the right brain, and because these nerves end in the opposite side, the following sensation is experienced in the left side of the body. Not much is known about the reliability of SDBs as indicators of stress in bonobos. Therefore, we investigated the production and asymmetry of SDBs in bonobos whilst they completed two cognitive touchscreen tasks. The most common SDB was nose wiping, followed by gentle self-scratching, then rough self-scratching. When the bonobos made incorrect responses, due to their unsuccessful experience resulting in expressions of frustration, they showed more nose wiping and rough self-scratching. Additionally, rough self-scratching was more directed to the left side of the body, suggesting a link to negative emotions. Interestingly, in one of the tasks, the bonobos gently self-scratched more frequently when they gave correct responses, possibly indicating positive emotions. These results increase our understanding of SDBs as indicators of emotion in bonobos. Self-directed behaviours (SDBs) are widely used as markers of emotional arousal in primates, and are commonly linked to negative arousal, or are used as indicators of stress or poor welfare. However, recent studies suggest that not all SDBs have the same function. Moreover, lateralisation in the production of these behaviours has been suggested to be associated with emotional processing. Hence, a better understanding of the production and the asymmetry of these displacement behaviours is needed in a wider range of species in order to confirm their reliability as indicators of emotional arousal. In the current study, we experimentally evaluated the production and asymmetry of SDBs in zoo-housed bonobos during two cognitive touchscreen tasks. Overall, nose wipes were most commonly observed, followed by gentle self-scratches, and rough self-scratches. The rates of nose wipes and rough self-scratches increased with incorrect responses, suggesting that these behaviours indicate arousal and possibly frustration. Rough self-scratching was additionally more directed towards the left hemispace after incorrect responses. In contrast, gentle self-scratching increased after correct responses in one study, possibly linking it with positive arousal. We also tested if left-handed bonobos showed greater behavioural reactivity towards incorrect responses, but found no evidence to confirm this hypothesis. Our results shed light on potential different mechanisms behind separate SDBs. We therefore provide nuance to the use of SDBs as indicator of emotional arousal in bonobos.
Journal: Animals
ISSN: 2076-2615
Volume: 12
Pages: 1 - 15
Publication year:2022
Keywords:A1 Journal article