Macaque moms dote on babies, like human mothers

October 9th, 2009 - 4:51 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 9 (IANS) Macaque moms dote on their babies, just like human mothers, a new study suggests.
The new findings show that mother macaques and their infants have interactions in the first month of life that researchers say look a lot like what humans tend to do.

“What does a mother or father do when looking at their own baby?” asked Pier Francesco Ferrari of the Università di Parma in Italy.

“They smile at them and exaggerate their gestures, modify their voice pitch - the so-called “motherese” - and kiss them. What we found in mother macaques is very similar: they exaggerate their gestures, “kiss” their baby, and have sustained mutual gaze,” Ferrari said.

In humans, those communicative interactions go both ways, research in the last three decades has shown. Newborns are sensitive to their mother’s expressions, movements, and voice, and they also mutually engage their mothers and are capable of emotional exchange.

“For years, these capacities were considered to be basically unique to humans,” the researchers said, “although perhaps shared to some extent with chimpanzees”.

The new findings extend those social skills to macaques, suggesting that the infant monkeys may “have a rich internal world” that we are only now beginning to see.

The researchers closely observed mother-infant pairs for the first two months of the infants’ lives. They found that mother macaques and their babies spent more time gazing at each other than at other monkeys.

Mothers also more often smacked their lips at their infants, a gesture the infants often imitated back to their mothers.

The researchers also saw mothers holding their infant and actively searching for the infant’s gaze, sometimes holding the infant’s head and gently pulling it towards her face.

In other instances, when infants were physically separated from their mothers, the parent moved her face very close to that of the infant, sometimes lowering her head and bouncing it in front of the youngster. Interestingly, those exchanges virtually disappeared when the infants turned about one month.

These findings were reported online in Current Biology.

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