African Lions: Head Rubbing and Licking Reinforce their Social Bonds

Many social animals have a species-specific repertoire of affiliative behaviours (behaviors which promote group cohesion, friendly/positive gestures, e.g. grooming, touching, and hugging) that characterise individualised relationships within a group.
To date, however, quantitative studies on intragroup affiliative behaviours in social carnivores have been limited. Here, this study investigated the social functions of the two most commonly observed affiliative behaviours in captive African lions (Panthera leo):

•Head rubbing 

•Licking.


Researchers conducted behavioural observations on a captive group of lions composed of 7 males and 14 females, and tested hypotheses regarding three (3) Social functions: Tension reduction, Social bonding, and Social status expression.

Disproportionately frequent male–male and female-to-male Head rubbing was observed, while more than 95% of all Licking interactions occurred in female–female dyads.
The dyadic frequency of head rubbing was negatively correlated with age difference while licking was positively correlated with relatedness.

Group reunion after daily separation did not affect the frequencies of the affiliative behaviours.
These results support the *Social bond hypothesis (See NOTE below) for the functions of head rubbing and licking.


Different patterns of affiliative behaviour between the sexes may reflect differences in the relationship quality in each sex or the differential predisposition to Licking due to its original function in offspring care.

NOTE: *
Social bond theory encompasses various forms of social attachment theories. Attachment is a complicated process that begins at birth with attachment to the mother. This early form of bonding or attachment sets the standard for an individual's future attachments to friends, family members, co-workers and even lovers. According to the research of Travis Hirschi, insecure attachment is synonymous with a greater susceptibility to mental disorders in adult life. Some disorders connected to a lack of social bonding are depression, anxiety, anti-social behavior and suicidal tendencies.
Source: Plos one

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