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Why do some primate mothers carry their infant's corpse? A cross-species comparative study

Fernández-Fueyo, E; Sugiyama, Y; Matsui, T; Carter, AJ; (2021) Why do some primate mothers carry their infant's corpse? A cross-species comparative study. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences , 288 (1959) , Article 20210590. 10.1098/rspb.2021.0590. Green open access

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Abstract

Non-human primates respond to the death of a conspecific in diverse ways, some of which may present phylogenetic continuity with human thanatological responses. Of these responses, infant corpse carrying by mothers (ICC) is the most frequently reported. Despite its prevalence, quantitative analyses of this behaviour are scarce and inconclusive. We compiled a database of 409 published cases across 50 different primate species of mothers' responses to their infants' deaths and used Bayesian phylogenetic regressions with an information-theoretic approach to test hypotheses proposed to explain between- and within-species variation in ICC. We found that ICC was more likely when the infant's death was non-traumatic (e.g. illness) versus traumatic (e.g. infanticide), and when the mother was younger. These results support the death detection hypothesis, which proposes that ICC occurs when there are fewer contextual or sensory cues indicating death. Such an interpretation suggests that primates are able to attain an awareness of death. In addition, when carried, infant age affected ICC duration, with longer ICC observed for younger infants. This result suggests that ICC is a by-product of strong selection on maternal behaviour. The findings are discussed in the context of the evolution of emotion, and implications for evolutionary thanatology are proposed.

Type: Article
Title: Why do some primate mothers carry their infant's corpse? A cross-species comparative study
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.0590
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.0590
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Death detection, emotion, infant corpse carrying, maternal behaviour, primates’ responses to death, thanatology
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10134556
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