Primate Societies Provide Insight Into Human Evolution

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Complex human societies stem from increased tolerance and co-operation in males, say scientists at the University of Liverpool.

In most mammal species, males compete with each other for food and mates. Old World primates, found in Africa, Europe and Asia, fit this pattern and can be very aggressive, having little social interaction other than when fighting for access to females.

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Male apes, however, tend to be more tolerant towards each other and towards females. New World primate social groups, based in the Americas, are very similar to those of apes. Male co-operation and tolerance in these primates may be the key to understanding the evolution of complex human societies.

Dr Susanne Shultz, from the University’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “One of the characteristics of human society is high levels of co-operation in both males and females. This is extremely rare; in most species males are competitive rather than co-operative.

“The research suggests that lower prenatal androgens - including testosterone - that stimulate or control the development of masculine characteristics, may promote tolerance, co-operation and pair-bonding in primates.”

“Apes and New World primates may help us understand how highly organised and co-operative human societies have evolved and also allow human sociality to be put in to a framework whereby male tolerance and co-cooperativeness can lead to complex co-operative societies.”

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