New research says baboon breakups are mutual Just like humans, groups of baboons sometimes break off relations. Scientists have studied the dynamics of such breakups and say baboons tend to split up in a cooperative, egalitarian way.

New research says baboon breakups are mutual

New research says baboon breakups are mutual

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1062478225/1062478226" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Just like humans, groups of baboons sometimes break off relations. Scientists have studied the dynamics of such breakups and say baboons tend to split up in a cooperative, egalitarian way.

Brian A. Lerch et al, Better baboon breakups: collective decision theory of complex social network fissions

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We've all had to deal with breakups - with close friends or romantic partners. But breakups aren't a uniquely human phenomenon. Our primate cousins do it, too.

ROBERT SEYFARTH: We have known for years that primate groups like baboons and other African monkeys and chimpanzees and gorillas, that they grow in size. And at a certain point, they may split apart. And the question was, how do they decide who goes with whom?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That's Robert Seyfarth of the University of Pennsylvania. He points out there are a number of ways a breakup can go down.

SEYFARTH: Are they banding together with a tight little group of kin and splitting off in that group? Or is there some despot that is determining what they're doing?

CORNISH: Now a group of scientists has come up with an answer. Groups of baboons seem to split into two smaller groups in a cooperative way, rather than at the whims of a tyrannical baboon.

KELLY: And as in the human world, these breakups can take months or years.

SUSAN ALBERTS: It's not an event; it's a process. And part of the process is negotiating which social relationships are going to get broken.

KELLY: Susan Alberts of Duke University - she is one of the authors of the work published this week by the Royal Society. She says a group of baboons might just wake up in the morning with a difference of opinion.

ALBERTS: Where this faction or this clique says, no, we're going to go off to that waterhole, and this other clique says, well, we're going to go over to these azima (ph) bushes because the berries are ripe.

CORNISH: Fast-forward, and eventually, the group split apart. Alberts and her team studied seven real-world splits among wild baboons in Kenya. They mapped social bonds in those baboon groups and then studied how they broke apart.

KELLY: Brian Lerch of UNC Chapel Hill led that analysis. He said these breakups can have big consequences for baboons.

BRIAN LERCH: If you go through a bad breakup - right? - if you have a fission that disrupts your connection to your close social partners, then you might find yourself, after the fission, basically with no friends. You know, you might find yourself not having grooming partners and not having individuals to interact with.

CORNISH: Robert Seyfarth wasn't involved in the work. He says he was intrigued to learn baboons cooperate to dissolve relationships and cautioned that we shouldn't read too much into what it means for human bonds.

SEYFARTH: You always find somebody who says, yeah, the baboons are showing us that you shouldn't have a despotic breakup, and it's bad to just dump somebody and walk off. But I guess I'm not going to go into that territory.

CORNISH: Oh, I'll help. Don't ghost, text or announce it on social media. Just be human about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.