Researchers find positive visual contagion in Barbary macaques

December 12, 2018 by Bob Yirka, report
Barbary macaques. Credit: Wikipedia/Flickr/Karyn Sig

A pair of researchers at the University of Roehampton has found that captive Barbary macaques are capable of engaging in positive visual contagion—a behavior normally only seen in humans. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Juliette Berthier and Stuart Semple describe their experiments with Barbary macaques living in a park in the U.K. and what they learned from it.

Prior research has shown that humans sometimes engage in what is known as positive visual . This is when an individual encounters another individual behaving in a positive way and responds by behaving in a positive way. An example would be a person entering their office in the morning and encountering someone who seems to be in a cheerful mood—just seeing that person being cheerful can have a positive impact on the person seeing it. When the second person then behaves in a positive way and is seen by a third person who is then impacted, the reason for labeling it as a contagion becomes clear. Until now, it has not been known if positive visual contagion occurs with other animals, though there has been some anecdotal evidence suggesting it does—usually for a short time. In this new effort, the researchers report seeing such in Barbary macaques, and that some episodes lasted up to a half-hour.

The researchers studied 20 of the female macaques living in a partially free-range park. Because grooming has been shown to be a positive experience, they used it as a measure when conducting their positive visual contagion experiments. They also used more clear cues such as hugging and touching. The researchers also watched for other behaviors such as scratching or yawning—signs of unhappiness or stress. If a stopped performing such an activity upon witnessing something positive, it was counted as an example of positive visual contagion.

The researchers report that they witnessed several examples of positive visual contagion between the macaques. When one of the individuals was feeling nervous, for example, they became visibly less agitated when watching others grooming or being groomed. They also made themselves more readily available for such activities. They were also seen to cuddle more and to offer food to others.

Explore further: Positive emotions more contagious than negative ones on Twitter

More information: Observing grooming promotes affiliation in Barbary macaques, Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2018). rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2018.1964

Related Stories

Why yawning is contagious in bonobos

November 14, 2012

Being socially close to another bonobo is more likely to make bonobo apes yawn in response to the other's yawns, according to research published November 14 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Elisabetta Palagi and Elisa ...

Study finds 'rudimentary' empathy in macaques

December 1, 2015

(—A pair of researchers with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Université Lyon, in France has conducted a study that has shown that macaques have at least some degree of empathy towards their fellow ...

Is empathy in humans and apes actually different?

August 12, 2014

Whether or not humans are the only empathic beings is still under debate. In a new study, researchers directly compared the 'yawn contagion' effect between humans and bonobos (our closest evolutionary cousins). By doing so ...

'Emotional contagion' sweeps Facebook

June 14, 2014

When it hasn't been your day – your week, your month, or even your year – it might be time to turn to Facebook friends for a little positive reinforcement. According to a new study by social scientists at Cornell, the ...

Recommended for you

Fish-inspired material changes color using nanocolumns

March 20, 2019

Inspired by the flashing colors of the neon tetra fish, researchers have developed a technique for changing the color of a material by manipulating the orientation of nanostructured columns in the material.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.