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Network Stability Is a Balancing Act of Personality, Power, and Conflict Dynamics in Rhesus Macaque Societies


Stability in biological systems requires evolved mechanisms that promote robustness. Cohesive primate social groups represent one example of a stable biological system, which persist in spite of frequent conflict. Multiple sources of stability likely exist for any biological system and such robustness, or lack thereof, should be reflected and thus detectable in the group's network structure, and likely at multiple levels. Here we show how network structure and group stability are linked to the fundamental characteristics of the individual agents in groups and to the environmental and social contexts in which these individuals interact. Both internal factors (e.g., personality, sex) and external factors (e.g., rank dynamics, sex ratio) were considered from the level of the individual to that of the group to examine the effects of network structure on group stability in a nonhuman primate species. The results yielded three main findings. First, successful third-party intervention behavior is a mechanism of group stability in rhesus macaques in that successful interventions resulted in less wounding in social groups. Second, personality is the primary factor that determines which individuals perform the role of key intervener, via its effect on social power and dominance discrepancy. Finally, individuals with high social power are not only key interveners but also key players in grooming networks and receive reconciliations from a higher diversity of individuals. The results from this study provide sound evidence that individual and group characteristics such as personality and sex ratio influence network structures such as patterns of reconciliation, grooming and conflict intervention that are indicators of network robustness and consequent health and well-being in rhesus macaque societies. Utilizing this network approach has provided greater insight into how behavioral and social processes influence social stability in nonhuman primate groups. © 2011 McCowan et al.

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