To Whom the Play Signal Is Directed: A Study of Headshaking in Black-Handed Spider Monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi)

Spider monkeys shake their heads so as to facilitate amicable social contact. This occurs frequently during vigorous play fighting, and so is common during the juvenile period. Occasionally, juvenile spider monkeys use headshakes during nonsocial locomotor play. In this study, head shaking in early infancy and in adulthood was studied in a captive troop of spider monkeys, with a total of 8 infants studied from shortly after birth to just before weaning. Three hypotheses to account for these nonsocial headshakes were tested. The play as the experience of the unexpected hypothesis was found wanting because nonsocial headshakes were most common in early infancy, before the onset of the juvenile peak in play. The immature misdirection of signals hypothesis was also found wanting because the headshakes were correctly directed at other monkeys, but not at inanimate objects that were grabbed and mouthed. Both also failed to predict the occurrence of the observed nonsocial headshakes in adults. The hypothesis best supported by the data is that, under some situations, headshakes are self-directed to promote action when confronting contexts of uncertainty. © 2011 American Psychological Association.

Spider monkeys shake their heads so as to facilitate amicable social contact. This occurs frequently during vigorous play fighting, and so is common during the juvenile period. Occasionally, juvenile spider monkeys use headshakes during nonsocial locomotor play. In this study, head shaking in early infancy and in adulthood was studied in a captive troop of spider monkeys, with a total of 8 infants studied from shortly after birth to just before weaning. Three hypotheses to account for these nonsocial headshakes were tested. The play as the experience of the unexpected hypothesis was found wanting because nonsocial headshakes were most common in early infancy, before the onset of the juvenile peak in play. The immature misdirection of signals hypothesis was also found wanting because the headshakes were correctly directed at other monkeys, but not at inanimate objects that were grabbed and mouthed. Both also failed to predict the occurrence of the observed nonsocial headshakes in adults. The hypothesis best supported by the data is that, under some situations, headshakes are self-directed to promote action when confronting contexts of uncertainty. © 2011 American Psychological Association.

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