Thursday, December 17, 2020

Kangaroos never domesticated can ask humans for help

Kangaroos display gazing and gaze alternations during an unsolvable problem task. Alan G. McElligott, Kristine H. O'Keeffe and Alexandra C. Green. The Royal Society Biology Letters, December 16 2020.

Abstract: Domestication is generally assumed to have resulted in enhanced communication abilities between non-primate mammals and humans, although the number of species studied is very limited (e.g. cats, Felis catus; dogs, Canis familiaris; wolves, Canis lupus; goats, Capra hircus; horses, Equus caballus). In species without hands for pointing, gazing at humans when dealing with inaccessible food during an unsolvable task, and in particular gaze alternations between a human and the unsolvable task (considered forms of showing), are often interpreted as attempts at referential intentional communication. We report that kangaroos, marsupial mammals that have never been domesticated, actively gazed at an experimenter during an unsolvable problem task (10/11 kangaroos tested), thus challenging the notion that this behaviour results from domestication. Nine of the 10 kangaroos additionally showed gaze alternations between the unsolvable task and experimenter. We propose that the potential occurrence of these behaviours displayed towards humans has been underestimated, owing to a narrow focus on domestic animals, as well as a more general eutherian research bias.

Fellatio among male sanctuary-living chimpanzees during a period of social tension

Fellatio among male sanctuary-living chimpanzees during a period of social tension. Authors: Jake S. Brooker et al. Behaviour, Dec 15 2020.

Abstract: Same-sex sexual behaviour has been documented across the animal kingdom, and is thought to reflect and enhance dyadic cooperation and tolerance. For instance, same-sex fellatio — the reception of a partner’s penis into another’s mouth — has been reported in several mammalian species other than humans. Although same-sex sexual behaviour is observed in our close relatives, the chimpanzees, fellatio appears to be very rare — as yet there are no published reports clearly documenting its occurrence. At Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia, we observed an instance of fellatio occurring during a post-conflict period between two adult male chimpanzees (born and mother-reared at the sanctuary) where one of the males was the victim. We discuss this event with respect to the putative functions of homosexual behaviour in great apes. Given its rarity in chimpanzees, this fellatio between adult males also highlights the apparent behavioural flexibility present in our close relatives.

Keywords: chimpanzee; fellatio; same-sex sexual behaviour; homosexual behaviour; sanctuary; behavioural flexibility; social tension

4. Discussion

In this report, we described an instance of same-sex fellatio occurring between two sanctuary-living adult male chimpanzees. Although fellatio has been observed in other mammals (Ogawa, 2006; Tan et al., 2009; Sergiel et al., 2014; Sugita, 2016), including captive/semi-captive bonobos (de Waal, 1988; Clay, personal observation) and chimpanzees (Heesen, personal communication) it has not yet been reported among adult chimpanzees during social tension, with two previous reports noting the occurrence of oral-genital contact among play in immature chimpanzees (Savage & Malick, 1977; Savage-Rumbaugh & Wilkerson, 1978). Moreover, while bonobos habitually engage in diverse same-sex sexual behaviour, fellatio appears to be rare and constrained to play contexts involving immatures (de Waal, 1988; Clay, personal observation). To our knowledge, fellatio has not been reported to occur in post-conflict affiliative interactions among either chimpanzees or bonobos. This observation thus provides relevant insights into the potential diversity of its functions in our closest living relatives.

Homosexual interactions, such as those reported here between Max and David, have been hypothesised to reinforce same-sex alliances and increase the propensity to support and cooperate (Kirkpatrick, 2000; Moscovice et al., 2019). Creating such connections may facilitate alliance formation and provide greater opportunities for future cooperation and support during agonism between non-kin. As a low-ranking chimpanzee, it is possible that Max’s request for fellatio in this case may have been driven by a motivation to associate with potential coalition partners, with genital contacts having been shown to facilitate coalitionary support in bonobos, the close relative of chimpanzees (Moscovice et al., 2019). As our closest phylogenetic relatives, studying genital contacts in chimpanzees, including fellatio, in specific contexts may provide clarity on the evolutionary origins of same-sex sexual behaviour within and between the sexes.

Our observation may also reflect fellatio serving a reassurance and alliance testing function by a subordinate male, akin to genital touches and mounting commonly observed between wild male chimpanzees during socially tense periods such as before boundary patrols and intergroup encounters (Wittig et al., 2016; Samuni et al., 2019). It has been proposed that engaging in intimate, risky behaviour such as fellatio can be used to test social relationships and tolerance (Kirkpatrick, 2000).

Chimpanzees are behaviourally innovative and spontaneously develop unique behaviour that may culturally transmit, even if such actions appear to lack adaptive benefits (van Leeuwen et al., 2014). As chimpanzees are not known to habitually engage in same-sex sexual interactions, Max’s repeated attempts to initiate genital contact for reassurance may also represent a behavioural innovation. Observing Max’s group in varying contexts would be necessary to detect whether he possesses a more general tendency for same-sex sexual interactions. Further, longitudinal investigations may show that idiosyncratic sexual behaviour, such as fellatio, is culturally transmitted over time.

Although the functions of fellatio remain to be explored in great apes, its initiation by a lower ranking to a dominant male in a socially tense context makes a novel contribution to the literature. Given the apparent overlaps between this behaviour and genital contacts occurring among the close sister species, the bonobos, systematically comparing sexual behaviours during periods of social tension between Pan would provide greater clarity on how sexual behaviours may be adapted and deployed to fortify and repair social relationships.

The More Who Die, the Less We Care: Evidence from Natural Language Analysis of Online News Articles and Social Media Posts

The More Who Die, the Less We Care: Evidence from Natural Language Analysis of Online News Articles and Social Media Posts. Sudeep Bhatia et al. Risk Analysis, August 25 2020.

Abstract: Considerable amount of laboratory and survey‐based research finds that people show disproportional compassionate and affective response to the scope of human mortality risk. According to research on “psychic numbing,” it is often the case that the more who die, the less we care. In the present article, we examine the extent of this phenomenon in verbal behavior, using large corpora of natural language to quantify the affective reactions to loss of life. We analyze valence, arousal, and specific emotional content of over 100,000 mentions of death in news articles and social media posts, and find that language shows an increase in valence (i.e., decreased negative affect) and a decrease in arousal when describing mortality of larger numbers of people. These patterns are most clearly reflected in specific emotions of joy and (in a reverse fashion) of fear and anger. Our results showcase a novel methodology for studying affective decision making, and highlight the robustness and real‐world relevance of psychic numbing. They also offer new insights regarding the psychological underpinnings of psychic numbing, as well as possible interventions for reducing psychic numbing and overcoming social and psychological barriers to action in the face of the world's most serious threats.

Chimpanzees have diverse behavioral repertoires yet lack more complex cultures than humans; invention and social information use in a cumulative task and chimpanzees fail at that

Why do chimpanzees have diverse behavioral repertoires yet lack more complex cultures? Invention and social information use in a cumulative task. Gillian L. Valeai et al. Evolution and Human Behavior, December 16 2020.

Abstract: Humans are distinctive in their dependence upon products of culture for survival, products that have evolved cumulatively over generations such that many cannot now be created by a single individual. Why the cultural capacity of humans appears unrivalled in the animal kingdom is a topic of ongoing debate. Here we explore whether innovation and/or social learning propensities may constrain the ability of one of our closest living relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), to master an extractive foraging and tool-use task designed to afford opportunities for cumulative culture to develop. We further explore the potential demographic characteristics associated with novel task solutions. Chimpanzees (N = 53) were inventive, flexibly exploring the novel task, albeit complex inventions were rare and shaped by prior individual experience with similar tool-use tasks. However, they displayed no evidence of cumulative cultural learning. Communities displayed richer behavioral repertoires and had greater task success than chimpanzees tested in an asocial control condition, but their solution complexity did not surpass what individuals invented. The lack of social transmission of complex and beneficial solutions in contexts like those we studied provides one explanation for the limited cumulative culture observed in this species.

Keywords: CultureCumulative cultureCumulative cultural evolutionInnovationSocial learningTool use

Why Has Burglary Declined by 80 Percent Across Four Decades in the US? Household security, largely absent in the 1970s, improved gradually over time (juveniles finding burglary increasingly difficult)

Farrell, Graham. 2020. “Why Has Burglary Declined by 80 Percent Across Four Decades in the United States? Evidence Relating to the Security Hypothesis.” SocArXiv. January 18. doi:10.31235/

Abstract: Residential burglary imposes significant financial and emotional costs upon victims and society overall. Yet residential burglary in the US has declined by over 80 percent across the last four decades, representing a major social phenomenon that remains largely unexplained. International research indicates a need for investigation of the security hypothesis. Here, 50 years of burglary studies are examined chronologically. A consistent narrative emerges which indicates that household security, largely absent in the 1970s, improved gradually over time. Improvement occurred via three mechanisms: the increased prevalence, quality, and routine use of security fixtures and fittings. In addition, crime displacement declined as fewer household presented easy crime opportunities, and burglars’ average age increased ( juveniles finding burglary increasingly difficult). The likelihood that 50 years of diverse evidence points in the same direction by chance, and without significant contrary evidence, seems remote. Hence the conclusion is that gradual household security improvements played a central role in the decline in residential burglary over time. Implications for theory, policy, and further research are identified.

COVID-19: the emoji density (average number of emojis per tweet) and the relative popularity of specific emojis have changed

How has the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected global emoji usage? Anwesha Das. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Dec 14 2020.

Abstract: Over the past few decades, emojis have emerged as a popular form of non-linguistic expression in computer-mediated communication. Various factors have been known to affect emoji usage patterns (such as age, gender, platform diversity etc.). The aim of the current study is to explore if the onset of the coronavirus pandemic (2019–20) has affected emoji usage patterns across various countries. The present study was conducted on two sets of tweets, collected before (July, 2019) and during the pandemic (March, 2020). The results suggest that although the usage of specific emojis has not changed noticeably (that is, the popular emojis mostly remained the same), the emoji density (average number of emojis per tweet) and the relative popularity of specific emojis have changed. This could potentially point toward a sense of insufficiency of emojis to express the sentiments associated with the pandemic.

Discussions and conclusions

Emoji usage and their patterns can provide significant insight into human behavior in CMC. In addition, the scope of understanding the different factors affecting emoji usage is vast.

In the present work, emoji usage was compared between two datasets (one collected before and the other after the start of the pandemic), and different characteristic parameters were explored for the purpose of this comparison.

Current results do not show any significant shift in the use of the popular emojis before and after the start of pandemic. It was observed that across all four country-clusters, the most popular emojis more or less remained the same. In addition to this, no emoji that can be associated with the pandemic was present in the top 10 emojis used for each cluster, suggesting that on a general scale, the pandemic does not seem to have altered the most commonly used emojis. Further, the average sentiment score of the emojis used (by country-cluster, for the top 5 emojis) remained approximately the same before and after the start of the pandemic.

However, an interesting point to note here is that across the first three clusters (with the maximum number of COVID-19 patients), the relative popularity of some of the most popular emojis dropped after the start of the pandemic. For example, in cluster 1, the “tears of joy emoji” (the most popular emoji across all clusters), made up 34.36% of all the emojis used, whereas after the start of the pandemic, it made up only 14.69%. A similar pattern is seen in cluster 2 as well, where initially the “tears of joy” emoji makes up 17.72% of all emojis, whereas it makes up only 5.00% after the start of the pandemic. In cluster 3, the values are 7.46 and 4.59 before and after the start of the pandemic, respectively, that is the difference closes in. In cluster 4, this difference almost levels out. A similar pattern is also observed amongst a few of the other top 5 emojis. As mentioned earlier in this paper, the emoji usage density dropped for 75% of the countries (by approximately 40%) in the first three clusters. Hence, indicating that the average usage of emojis by countries which are most affected by the pandemic dropped.

Although this difference is subtle, this could potentially indicate toward a shift in general public sentiment—a possible explanation being that there is a sense of insufficiency in emojis being able to convey the emotions associated with the pandemic. Another explanation could be that people associate emojis to a (comparatively) lighthearted conversation (Danesi, 2016), whereas the pandemic calls for more serious expressions, where emojis may be inadequate.

Nevertheless, it is important to mention here that a number of other factors could possibly affect global emoji usage and emoji usage amongst country-clusters (say clusters having countries with vastly differing economies etc.). The current study aimed to look at only one such possible factor, namely, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dishonest behavior is positively correlated with happiness; happiness may provide the cognitive flexibility necessary to reframe and rationalize dishonest acts

Do Happy People Cheat Less? A Field Experiment on Dishonesty. Erez Siniver. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, December 15 2020, 101658.


• An experiment is designed to examine the effect of happiness on dishonest behavior.

• Dishonest behavior is found to be positively correlated with happiness.

• The positive relationship between dishonesty and happiness is not gender driven.

Abstract: Results of an experimental study designed to examine the effect of happiness on dishonest behavior are reported and analyzed. Passersby on the streets of Tel Aviv were asked to answer the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (OHQ), which contains 29 multiple-choice questions for measuring Subjective Well-Being (SWB). Each question is answered according to a uniform six-point Likert scale. After filling out the questionnaire, they were invited to perform the Fischbacher and Follmi-Heusi (2013)’s die-under-the-cup (DUTC) task, which incentivizes dishonest behavior. Past research has found a positive relationship between a person's level of honesty and their reported SWB. However, that result is based entirely on a subject's responses to a direct-question survey that simply asks whether he behaves ethically. The present study examines the relationship between dishonest behavior and SWB based on experimental data. Happiness was found to be positively correlated with dishonest behavior, implying that happy people cheat more than unhappy people. A possible explanation for this unexpected result is that happiness may provide the cognitive flexibility necessary to reframe and rationalize dishonest acts. This may pave the way for the commission of dishonest acts by altering how people evaluate the moral implications of their behavior.

Key words: HappinessSubjective Well-BeingEthicsDishonestyLyingDie-Under-the-Cup Task