Animals not immune to Politics- How and Why Do We Pick Our Friends?
It turns out that dolphin friendships are not based solely on prior interactions, they are politically motivated. Cooperative decisions are based on who else is around at any given moment. Even if the PD and KS groups had historically been enemies, their mutual interest in defeating the WC group turned them into friends, at least temporarily. This seems to require an extraordinary amount of cognitive resources.
Political aspirations also seem to guide friendships among the male Assamese macaques Macaca assamensis, which are native to Thailand. For this social primate, dominance is the main factor that allows a male monkey access to females, and thus leads to reproductive success. In one study carried out in 2010, a monkey began ranking third in the group. Despite his relatively large size and good physical condition, he wasn’t very good at making friends with the other male monkeys. It wasn’t long before he tumbled to sixth position in the social hierarchy and lost his reproductive advantage. By the end of the observation period, he had fallen even further to eighth.
Could reputation protection – rather than similarity as Plato or Aristotle thought, or reciprocation as evolutionary biologists have argued – best explain the friendship riddle? In an experiment conducted by psychologists Peter DeScioli and Robert Kurzban in 2009, human participants created a list of their ten closest non-family friends, and ranked them according to closeness. They were then asked to imagine that they had one hundred points to distribute among those ten friends.
When the experiment participants were told that their distributions would be public knowledge, they doled out points fairly. Each friend received, on average, ten points. However, if the participants were told that their distributions would remain confidential, their allocations were less uniform. The best friend got the most points, followed by the second best friend, then the third, and so on. As social creatures with reputations to maintain, humans are acutely aware of the way that their behaviour might be viewed by others. So people rewarded their closest friends when they could get away with it, but strived to appear fair when under public scrutiny.