Chimp Ancestors Made Pals 6 Million Years Ago

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BFF's among primates date back to 6 million years ago, with friends that picked each other, literally.

Friendship as we know it today -- complete with BFF’s, trusted pals and more -- emerged in Africa 6 million years ago in the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans, a new Evolution & Human Behavior study suggests.

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This clever primate literally figured out that “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” makes life a lot easier.

“We know that it must have been a group-living species with relatively developed cognitive skills,” co-author Sonja Koski of the University of Zurich told Discovery News. “For example, it knew how to make and use simple tools and it understood some aspects of what other individuals are thinking. It also learned most of its necessary survival skills and knowledge socially, giving rise to the possibility of cultural differences in behavior between populations.”

“The groups consisted of many males and females, and individuals formed cooperative friendships,” she added. “Our results suggest that the preference to form these friendships with individuals much like oneself was present in the ancestor of chimpanzees and humans.”

Koski and co-author Jorg Massen of the University of Vienna found that chimpanzee buddies are remarkably similar to human friends. Both need emotionally rewarding, positive interactions with others, and these connections result in durable and mutually beneficial bonds. Chimp friendships, like human ones, can last for a very long time.

The researchers first investigated the personality similarity of friends among 38 captive chimpanzees. They determined that chimps were more likely to be friends if they possessed similar tendencies for sociability and boldness.

Sociability basically refers to how gregarious the individual is. In chimps, this is evident in grooming behaviors.

“So, highly sociable individuals hang out with others and groom them more often, while less sociable individuals are more aloof and do not groom much,” Koski explained.

She and Massen presented chimps with a stuffed leopard and an artificial snake to test boldness.