Social Touch in Apes and Dolphins

Part of the Primatology Monographs book series (PrimMono)


Social touch, or physical contact among two or more individuals in a nonaggressive context, seems to play important roles among both primates and cetaceans. However, with exception of social grooming among primates, it has rarely been studied in detail. Thus, in this chapter we review the descriptions of social touch in great apes and dolphins from the literature and from our own observations. After reviewing the social grooming among various mammalian taxa, we considered various types of social touch in apes and dolphins in more detail by dividing them into following seven categories: (1) social touch between mother and infant; (2) touch in play; (3) tactile gestures; (4) social grooming; (5) touch in greeting, reassurance, and appeasement; (6) touch to/with genital areas; and (7) simple body contact. Information from scattered descriptions in the literature suggests that social touch is widespread in apes and dolphins, yet frequencies may vary greatly among species. Although there has been no single theory to explain these diverse types of social touch, we briefly review theories that might be of relevance to explaining social touch.


Dolphins Flipper rubbing Great apes Odontocetes Physical contact Social grooming Social interaction Tactile communication 



M.N. thanks the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, the Tanzania National Parks, the Mahale Mountains National Park, and the Mahale Wildlife Research Centre for permission to conduct the field research at Mahale. M.S. thanks the people of the Mikura Islands and the staff of Kamogawa Sea World, Toba Aquarium, and Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. M.N.’s field study was financially supported by grants from Japanese MEXT (#16255007, #19255008 to T. Nishida, #16770186 to M.N.) and that of M.S. by grants from the Circle for the Promotion of Science and Engineering, the Inui Memorial Trust for Research on Animal Science, and JSPS.

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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.JSPS Research Fellow, Wildlife Research CenterKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan

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