Laméris, D. W., Verspeek, J., Salas, M. et al. 2022. Evaluating self-directed behaviours and their association with emotional arousal across two cognitive tasks in bonobos (Pan paniscus). Animals 12(21), 3002.

Self-directed behaviours (SDBs) are widely used as markers of emotional arousal in primates, and are commonly linked to negative arousal, or are used as indicators of stress or poor welfare. However, recent studies suggest that not all SDBs have the same function. Moreover, lateralisation in the production of these behaviours has been suggested to be associated with emotional processing. Hence, a better understanding of the production and the asymmetry of these displacement behaviours is needed in a wider range of species in order to confirm their reliability as indicators of emotional arousal. In the current study, we experimentally evaluated the production and asymmetry of SDBs in zoo-housed bonobos during two cognitive touchscreen tasks. Overall, nose wipes were most commonly observed, followed by gentle self-scratches, and rough self-scratches. The rates of nose wipes and rough self-scratches increased with incorrect responses, suggesting that these behaviours indicate arousal and possibly frustration. Rough self-scratching was additionally more directed towards the left hemispace after incorrect responses. In contrast, gentle self-scratching increased after correct responses in one study, possibly linking it with positive arousal. We also tested if left-handed bonobos showed greater behavioural reactivity towards incorrect responses, but found no evidence to confirm this hypothesis. Our results shed light on potential different mechanisms behind separate SDBs. We therefore provide nuance to the use of SDBs as indicator of emotional arousal in bonobos.

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