, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 281-297

Is human conversation more efficient than chimpanzee grooming?

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Abstract

Clique sizes for chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) grooming and for human conversation are compared in order to test Robin Dunbar’s hypothesis that human language is almost three times as efficient a bonding mechanism as primate grooming. Recalculation of the data provided by Dunbar et al. (1995) reveals that the average clique size for human conversation is 2.72 whereas that of chimpanzee grooming is shown to be 2.18. The efficiency of human conversation and actual chimpanzee grooming over Dunbar’s primate grooming model (always one-to-one and a one-way interaction) is 1.27 and 1.25, respectively, when we take role alternation into account. Chimpanzees can obtain about the same efficiency as humans in terms of quantity of social interactions because their grooming is often mutual and polyadic.

The fieldwork was supported by a grant from the International Scientific Research Program (07041138 to T. Nishida) of the Monbusho (Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture).
Michio Nakamura is a research fellow at Japan Monkey Centre. He received his Master of Science degree from Kyoto University in 1996. He is carrying out research on the grooming behavior of chimpanzees at Mahale, Tanzania, for his doctorate.