Forming Cliques Is Not Just A Human Trait - Baboons Do It Too!


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Dr Alecia Carter and her team found that baboons form cliques just like humans (Credit: Alecia Carter)

The human tendency to gravitate towards people that are similar to them starts early. In school-age children, the behavior called homophily, or "love of the same" often has to do with how others dress or act. Adults tend to form groups based on social stature, professions or personalities. Turns out that forming cliques and shutting out those that are "different" is not just a human trait. South Africa's Chacma or Cape baboons display similar tendencies as well!

This surprising discovery was made by a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Zoological Society of London. For their study, the scientists followed the same two troops of baboons in the Tsaobis Nature Park in Namibia for several months each year, from 2009-2014. What they noticed was that just like humans, baboons rarely strayed from their original groups. In other words, shy baboons would associate themselves with other shy baboons, etc. To verify if their observations were correct, the researchers conducted a "boldness" or "assertive behavior" experiment.

The scientists believe the cliques may limit learning (Credit: Alecia Carter)

They began by placing brightly-colored bread rolls and hard boiled eggs - foods that the baboons had never seen before - on the edge of trails the animals frequently traversed. The researchers kept a log of the time it took individual animals to venture close enough to investigate the new foods and another for ones that had the courage to taste them. Sure enough, the most curious and daring baboons all belonged to the same group. What did surprise the scientists is that gender was not a factor. The monkeys with similar personalities hung out together, regardless of whether they were male or female.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Royal Society Open Science on May 13th, say this behavior does not bode well for the animals. That's because previous studies have shown that the daring and curious baboons are good problem solvers as well. They are the ones that discover new ways to forage for food and keep the group safe. The scientists worry that if the baboons share new problem-solving skills with only their group, it leaves the rest of the species vulnerable to any environmental changes or predators.

Three-spined stickleback fish also share secrets only with their best friends (Credit:

Unfortunately, baboons are not the only animals that form cliques. It turns out that even fish prefer certain social groups! At least that was the conclusion reached in a 2014 study conducted on three-spined stickleback fish by some British and Canadian researchers.

The scientists began by dividing the 80 specimens into two groups. After about three weeks, the fish were re-arranged into smaller groups of ten. The researchers observed that many of the fish that had spent time together in the original two groups seemed to seek each other out. What was even more fascinating is that once they re-grouped, they were able to find the hidden food much faster. This led the researchers to speculate that like humans, the fish were inclined to share their secrets with their best "friends."

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Why baboons should demonstrate homophily for boldness is unclear, but it could be a heritable trait, and the patterns we’re seeing reflect family associations.” - See more at course baboons are not the only ones that
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