Sex-specific variation of social play in wild immature tibetan macaques, macaca thibetana

Tong Wang, Xi Wang, Paul A. Garber, Bing Hua Sun, Lixing Sun, Dong Po Xia, Jin Hua Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theories proposed to explain social play have centered on its function in establishing social relationships critical for adulthood, its function in developing motor skills needed to survive, and promoting cognitive development and social learning. In this study, we compared variations in social play among infant and juvenile male and female Macaca thibetana. Given that this species is characterized by female philopatry and male dispersal, we hypothesized that immature females use social play as a mechanism to develop bonds that persist through adulthood whereas immature males use play to develop social skills needed to successfully enter new groups. The results indicated that social play steadily increased during the infant period and peaked at approximately 12 months of age. There were no significant differences in the frequency or types of social play exhibited between infant males and infant females. During the juvenile period, however, social play was found to decrease with age, with males engaging in social play more frequently than juvenile females. Moreover, whereas juvenile males engaged in more aggressive forms of play, juvenile females engaged in more affiliative forms of play. In addition, juvenile females engaged in higher rates of grooming than juvenile males. These results provide evidence of sex-specific differences and imply the functional variation of social play in Tibetan macaques, with immature males using social play to develop skills needed to enter and enhanced their dominance rank in a new social group and immature females using social play to develop long-term same-sex social bonds in their natal group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number805
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Aggression
  • Grooming
  • Macaca thibetana
  • Social play

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • General Veterinary


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