, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 121-140
Date: 15 Sep 2007

Mutual Grooming in Human Dyadic Relationships: An Ethological Perspective

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Abstract

Despite its widespread practice among primates writ large, social scientists have given mutual grooming among humans little attention. This research provides an important first step in describing mutual grooming among humans. A scale was developed to measure self-reported giving and receiving of grooming. In Study 1, 184 female and 94 male participants first indicated their closest emotional relationship (for example, romantic partner, best friend, etcetera). They then completed the grooming measure pertaining to that emotionally close target person. Finally, they completed indices of relationship trust, relationship satisfaction, and parental/familial affection. Individuals who focused on their romantic partners (N = 134) reported more mutual grooming than individuals who focused on other types of relationships. Relationship satisfaction, previous experience of familial affection, and trust were positively correlated with mutual grooming for romantically involved individuals. Study 2 (N = 71 heterosexual couples) explored psychological correlates of mutual grooming within romantic dyads. Individuals with more promiscuous attitudes and those who scored high on the anxiety subscale of an adult attachment style measure reported grooming their partners most frequently. Findings were consistent with several proposed functions of grooming: (a) potential parental-investment indicator, (b) developing trust, and (c) courtship/flirtation—all of which play roles in pair-bonding. At first glance, humans may not appear to groom each other with the same fervor as other primates. However, we posit that humans are, in actuality, groomers par excellence.