Stocker, M. Loretto, M.-C., Sterck, E. H. M. et al. 2020. Cooperation with closely bonded individuals reduces cortisol levels in long-tailed macaques. Royal Society Open Science 7(5), 7191056.

Many animal species cooperate with conspecifics in various social contexts. While ultimate causes of cooperation are being studied extensively, its proximate causes, particularly endocrine mechanisms, have received comparatively little attention. Here, we present a study investigating the link between the hormone cortisol, cooperation and social bonds in long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis). We tested 14 macaques in a dyadic cooperation task (loose-string paradigm), each with two partners of different social bond strength and measured their salivary cortisol before and after the task. We found no strong link between the macaques' cortisol level before the task and subsequent cooperative success. By contrast, we did find that the act of cooperating in itself led to a subsequent decrease in cortisol levels, but only when cooperating with closely bonded individuals. Two control conditions showed that this effect was not due to the mere presence of such an individual or the pulling task itself. Consequently, our study shows an intricate way in which the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis is involved in cooperation. Future studies should reveal whether and how our findings are driven by the anxiolytic effect of oxytocin, which has been associated with social bonding.

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