The Use of the Bared-Teeth Display During play fighting in Tonkean Macaques (Macaca tonkeana): Sometimes It Is All About Oneself

Play signals are viewed as important means by which animals inform each other that bites, strikes, and throws that occur during play fighting are indeed playful rather than serious. One such signal is the open mouth play face that is common in primates and many other mammals. Unfortunately, as most play fighting involves biting, it can be ambiguous as to whether any instance of opening the mouth is performed to communicate playful intent or is simply a preparation for biting. In this study, open mouths co-occurring with the bared-teeth display (teeth-baring) in Tonkean macaques were used to assess the context in which facial gestures only relevant for signaling (i.e., teeth-baring is not necessary for biting) are used during play. Two predictions arising from the hypothesis that play signals are used to facilitate playful contact were tested: that the open mouth with teeth-baring should (1) be most frequent preceding contact, and (2) that it should be performed most often when bites are directed at orientations that is visible to the recipient. The data only partially support these predictions. The open mouth with teeth-baring is also frequently used when a monkey withdraws from playful contact. Moreover, it is associated with bites to body targets, such as the rump, that offer little prospect for detection by the recipient; this supports the possibility that play signals may sometimes be emitted not to communicate with the partner but with the performer itself. Thus, play signals serve multiple functions during play fighting. © 2011 American Psychological Association.

Play signals are viewed as important means by which animals inform each other that bites, strikes, and throws that occur during play fighting are indeed playful rather than serious. One such signal is the open mouth play face that is common in primates and many other mammals. Unfortunately, as most play fighting involves biting, it can be ambiguous as to whether any instance of opening the mouth is performed to communicate playful intent or is simply a preparation for biting. In this study, open mouths co-occurring with the bared-teeth display (teeth-baring) in Tonkean macaques were used to assess the context in which facial gestures only relevant for signaling (i.e., teeth-baring is not necessary for biting) are used during play. Two predictions arising from the hypothesis that play signals are used to facilitate playful contact were tested: that the open mouth with teeth-baring should (1) be most frequent preceding contact, and (2) that it should be performed most often when bites are directed at orientations that is visible to the recipient. The data only partially support these predictions. The open mouth with teeth-baring is also frequently used when a monkey withdraws from playful contact. Moreover, it is associated with bites to body targets, such as the rump, that offer little prospect for detection by the recipient; this supports the possibility that play signals may sometimes be emitted not to communicate with the partner but with the performer itself. Thus, play signals serve multiple functions during play fighting. © 2011 American Psychological Association.

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