International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 1257–1270 | Cite as

Short-Term Benefits of Play Behavior and Conflict Prevention in Pan paniscus

  • Elisabetta Palagi
  • Tommaso Paoli
  • Silvana Borgognini Tarli

Most theories on the function of play have focused on ultimate rather than proximate benefits. Play peaks during juvenility but, in some species, it is present in adulthood as well. In primates, social play and grooming often show a matched pattern because they bring individuals into close contact and favor social cohesion. In Pan, researchers have widely documented anticipation of competition at feeding time. Chimpanzees limit aggression over food by grooming (celebration), whereas bonobos use sociosexuality as a reassurance mechanism. We examined the function of play in the context of conflict prevention in the Apenheul bonobo colony. We analyzed the distribution of social play, grooming, and sexual contacts in periods around feeding and in a control condition. Adult-adult and adult-immature play frequencies were significantly higher during prefeeding than in any other condition, thus not supporting the commonly held view that social stress suppresses play. Further, there is a significant positive correlation between adult-adult play and rates of cofeeding. During feeding, adults engaged in their highest levels of sociosexual behaviors, whereas an increase in grooming rates occurred in prefeeding, though not significantly compared to the control rates. In conclusion, bonobos apparently cope with competition and social tension via 2 different mechanisms of conflict management: play to prevent tension, e.g., prefeeding, and sociosexual behaviors as appeasement and reassurance mechanisms once a tense situation emerges.


anticipation feeding Pan paniscus play sex 



The University of Pisa (Italy) supported this research. We thank the Apenheul Primate Park (The Netherlands): the Director Leobert E. M. de Boer, the General Curator Frank Rietkerk, and the bonobo keepers for allowing and facilitating this work; Giada Cordoni and Leonardo Dapporto for useful discussion; and Sergio Pellis for his valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elisabetta Palagi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tommaso Paoli
    • 1
    • 2
  • Silvana Borgognini Tarli
    • 2
  1. 1.Centro Interdipartimentale Museo di Storia Naturale e del TerritorioUniversità di PisaCalci PisaItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento Etologia, Ecologia ed Evoluzione, Unità di AntropologiaUniversità di PisaPisaItaly

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