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Constraints on relationship formation among female primates

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The notion that female primates' relationships are adaptive is an explicit assumption of socioecological models of primate sociality. Here, we point out that there are other, implicit, assumptions about female relationships that also need to be considered when investigating the ultimate value of social relationships. First, there is the assumption that the operational definition of 'relationship' used in primate studies is an accurate reflection of the way in which monkeys themselves view their interactions with their peers. We also note that a relationship-based approach encourages a focus on the outcomes of social processes, rather than their dynamics, and could generate a potentially misleading view of primate sociality. Related to this first point, we also question the assumption that females possess the cognitive capacities required to engage in the long-term strategic decision-making and are capable of a high degree of forward planning. We argue that, at least among monkeys, this is unlikely to be the case, and any long-term 'planning' is the product of an evolved 'rule of thumb' and not real-time cognitive processing. Finally, we highlight the fact that group life is inherently dynamic and that chance demographic effects can limit females' social options to a degree that suggests short-term contingent decision-making would be the more optimal strategy for females to adopt. We suggest that greater understanding of these three elements is required for a true understanding of the adaptive nature of female relationships.

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