The Evolutionary Origins of Friendship

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Convergent evidence from many species reveals the evolutionary origins of human friendship. In horses, elephants, hyenas, dolphins, monkeys, and chimpanzees, some individuals form friendships that last for years. Bonds occur among females, among males, or between males and females. Genetic relatedness affects friendships. In species where males disperse, friendships are more likely among females. If females disperse, friendships are more likely among males. Not all friendships, however, depend on kinship; many are formed between unrelated individuals. Friendships often involve cooperative interactions that are separated in time. They depend, at least in part, on the memory and emotions associated with past interactions. Applying the term “friendship” to animals is not anthropomorphic: Many studies have shown that the animals themselves recognize others' relationships. Friendships are adaptive. Male allies have superior competitive ability and improved reproductive success; females with the strongest, most enduring friendships experience less stress, higher infant survival, and live longer.

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