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How to Repair Relationships – Reconciliation in Wild Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)


Roman M. Wittig, Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. E-mail:


Reconciliation appears to repair the relationships of former opponents after being disturbed by aggressive interactions. Despite a consensus about the benefit of reconciliation, how former opponents achieve this benefit remains unclear. Variation within reconciliation is evident in many species, but understanding what causes the variation has been mostly neglected until now. We collected 178 events of reconciliation of both sexes in a community of wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in the Taï National Park, Côte d'Ivoire. Our data provide evidence for the relationship-repair function of reconciliation, as aggression disturbed tolerance levels among former opponents and reconciliation restored tolerance to normal levels again. Partners with highly beneficial relationships reconciled more often compared with partners of low mutual benefit. Latency and duration of reconciliation varied in combination, such that short reconciliations were initiated soon after the conflict, while long reconciliations were initiated later. Latency increased with the risk of further aggression, while duration decreased when costs were incurred from interruption of beneficial activities. In contrast, the complexity of reconciliation varied according to the intensity of the preceding conflict, such that reconciliation was more complex after more intense conflicts. Our results suggest that relationships between opponents are increasingly disturbed with increasing conflict intensity and reconciliation repairs all relationships independent of their relationship value. We propose that the function of reconciliation is to reduce the disturbance created by aggression, but the more frequent the reconciliation, the more beneficial it is for former opponents.