Friendly fights - links between aggression and reconciliation

April 30, 2002

Brussels, 29 April 2002

Perhaps there is more to Tolstoy's War & Peace than meets the eye. Russian researchers believe aggression and reconciliation could be two sides of the same coin.

Researchers at the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography (Russian Academy of Sciences) in Moscow believe quarrels between members of the same social group of animals or the same human community in most cases end in reconciliation.

The reason offered for this is the opponents understand implicitly that, in order to share the same territory, they need to normalise social relations.

Early signs of this tendency were studied in different kinds of macaque monkeys. It was discovered that the character of reconciliation in animals depends on the type of hierarchical relations in the group. Tonkinese macaques, for example, are extremely peaceful, while their Japanese cousins and rhesus monkeys fight often and reconcile with difficulty.

Brown macaques are interesting. Their quarrels resemble large human families - their fights are frequent and noisy but usually reconciled soon after with tactile, emotional embraces. In all the animal studies, the scientists say they never observed reconciliation between the members of different groups of monkeys.

From the jungle to the classroom

The next step for the scientists was to test their theories on children, whose behaviour is usually less inhibited than adults and thus more representative.

A group of 94 Russian and Kalmyk children aged 5-7 were observed in the school playground over a period of time. They showed similar aggression-reconciliation behaviour to the monkeys. Despite whether they were friend or foe, as long as they were in the same social grouping, the children would eventually reconcile their differences - often using special customs and rituals. And, like the monkeys, children from different groups - for example a different classroom or school - almost never made up.

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Source: Research DG index_en.html

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