Correlates of Self-Directed Behaviour in Wild White-Faced Capuchins


Corresponding author:Joseph Manson, Department of Anthropology, University of California, 341 Haines Hall, PO Box 951553, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553, USA. E-mail:


Elevated rates of self-directed behaviour (SDB) such as self-scratching and autogrooming have been widely used in recent years as an indicator of anxiety in catarrhine primates. This study presents the first examination of correlates of SDB rates in a platyrrhine primate. Subjects were 8 wild female white-faced capuchins at Lomas Barbudal, Costa Rica, who were observed for 119 h of focal individual follows. The subjects performed significantly more self-scratching and autogrooming while in close proximity to conspecifics than while alone, irrespective of whether the neighbour was dominant or subordinate to them. This result was attributable to elevated SDB rates during the 30 s preceding and following allogrooming bouts. Furthermore, subjects engaged in more SDB while in proximity to females (a) that were closer to them in dominance rank and (b) with whom they spent a larger proportion of their time in proximity. Self-directed behaviour rates after conflicts did not differ from non-postconflict rates. Nor were SDB rates above baseline levels during the 30 s before subjects descended to the ground. These results may provide support for the view that SDB rates index anxiety in this species, if grooming decisions signal individuals' current allegiances and are therefore a source of anxiety, even if being groomed is, itself, relaxing. Postconflict preparation for further aggression may mitigate against scratching and autogrooming in a fast-moving arboreal species.