, 51:79 | Cite as

Third-party grooming in a captive chimpanzee group

  • Yvan I. RussellEmail author
Short Communication


Social grooming is ubiquitous among the captive chimpanzees at Chester Zoo. Seven individuals were chosen here for a study of third-party social dynamics. The grooming decisions of five adult males were analysed, but only insofar as they directed attention to a mother–daughter pair. Uniquely, the daughter was an unpopular and physically disabled subadult whose congenital motor impairments prevented her from grooming others effectively. The impetus for this study was the observation that some males increased their grooming towards the disabled daughter during days when the mother had a tumescent anogenital swelling (sexually attractive to males) compared to days when the mother was not tumescent (less attractive). Apparently, males were grooming the daughter with no possibility of payback (because the daughter could never “return the favour”). A “grooming rate” (avg. grooming time/hour) was calculated that showed the grooming efforts of all five males towards both mother and daughter. These rates were compared on days when (1) the mother’s anogenital swelling was tumescent, and (2) days when the swelling was not tumescent. Each male showed a different pattern of behaviour. Two males groomed the daughter significantly more when the mother was tumescent. Results for all males were graphed against the quality of the social relationship between each male and the mother. Apparently, only males that had a weaker relationship to the mother groomed the daughter more when the mother was tumescent. This pattern did not exist for males with a stronger relationship to the mother. Possibly, the insecure males were using the disabled daughter as a way to curry favour with the attractive mother. If this is confirmed, then this type of triadic situation is a possible setting for indirect reciprocity to occur.


Chimpanzee Grooming Oestrus Disability Indirect reciprocity 



For comments on an earlier version, I thank Robin Dunbar and Augusto Montiel-Castro. For help at Chester Zoo, I thank Clare Caws, Aiden Keane, Matt McLennan, Stephanie Wehnelt, Niall Ormerod, and Sonya Hill.


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.British Academy Centenary Research Project, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, School of Social SciencesBrunel UniversityUxbridgeUK

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