Self-aggression (SA) in nonhuman primates is a deviant form of aggression which involves threats and physical attacks directed towards the self. SA sometimes causes tissue damage, but usually the skin is not broken. The behaviour is most often reported in some Old World monkeys that have been reared under conditions of social deprivation, and rarely occurs in the wild. It may also appear in normal animals under very stressful conditions. Like social aggression, SA is more prominent in males; it increases with the onset of puberty, and may decline in later adulthood. In addition, like social aggression, SA may increase in response to pain, frustration, fear, or sexual arousal. It is hypothesized that SA develops in socially restricted infant monkeys due to potent ‘sign stimuli’, provided by the animal’s own body combining with the infant’s general reliance on the self, which has derived from other self-directed behaviours, such as sucking, clasping, and playfighting. SA may persist after social housing because animals learn that there are fewer social, physical and energetic costs involved in using the self, rather than another group member, as an outlet for aggression. Species that rely less on redirection in aggressive contexts, and/or possess self-awareness, appear less susceptible to SA of this type.
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Anderson, J.R., Chamove, A.S. Self-aggressive behaviour in monkeys. Current Psychological Reviews 1, 139–158 (1981). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02979261