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Policing in Nonhuman Primates: Partial Interventions Serve a Prosocial Conflict Management Function in Rhesus Macaques


Studies of prosocial policing in nonhuman societies traditionally focus on impartial interventions because of an underlying assumption that partial support implies a direct benefit to the intervener, thereby negating the potential for being prosocial in maintaining social stability for the benefit of the group. However, certain types of partial interventions have significant potential to be prosocial in controlling conflict, e.g. support of non-kin subordinates. Here, we propose a policing support hypothesis that some types of agonistic support serve a prosocial policing function that maintains group stability. Using seven large captive groups of rhesus macaques, we investigated the relationship between intervention type and group-level costs and benefits (rates of trauma, severe aggression, social relocation) and individual level costs and benefits (preferential sex-dyad targeting, dominance ambiguity reduction, access to mates, and return aggression). Our results show that impartial interventions and support of subordinate non-kin represent prosocial policing as both (1) were negatively associated with group-level rates of trauma and severe aggression, respectively, (2) showed no potential to confer individual dominance benefits, (3) when performed outside the mating season, they did not increase chances of mating with the beneficiary, and (4) were low-cost for the highest-ranking interveners. We recommend expanding the definition of 'policing' in nonhumans to include these 'policing support interventions'.

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