Development of socio-emotional competence in bonobos.
Social and emotional skills are tightly interlinked in human development, and both are negatively impacted by disrupted social development. The same interplay between social and emotional skills, including expressions of empathy, has received scant attention in other primates however, despite the growing interest in caring, friendships, and the fitness benefits of social skills. Here we examine the development of socio-emotional competence in juvenile bonobos (Pan paniscus) at a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, focusing on the interplay between various skills, including empathy-related responding. Most subjects were rehabilitated orphans, but some were born at the sanctuary and mother-reared there. We observed how juveniles with different rearing backgrounds responded to stressful events, both when the stress affected themselves (e.g., a lost fight) or others (e.g., witnessing the distress of others). The main dependent variable was the consolation of distressed parties by means of calming body contact. As in children, consolation was predicted by overall social competence and effective emotion regulation, as reflected in the speed of recovery from self-distress and behavioral measures of anxiety. Juveniles more effective at self-regulation were more likely to console others in distress, and such behavior was more typical of mother-reared juveniles than orphans. These results highlight the interplay between the development of social and emotional skills in our ape relatives and the importance of the mother-offspring bond in shaping socio-emotional competence.