The Role of Emotion
in Conflict and
Filippo Aureli & Darlene Smucny
Emotions traditionally have been described as human subjective experiences and considered inaccessible to scientific investigation in animals. There have been, however, promising recent developments in the comparative study of emotion. The growing emphasis on the mediating role of emotions in the human literature (Panksepp 1989; Frijda 1994; Rolls 1995) is paralleled by new perspectives in animal research that consider emotions as mediators between an animal's perception of the social and physical environment and its behavioral responses (Crook 1989; Lott 1991; Whiten 1996). For example, emotion has been proposed to mediate intraspecific variation in gregariousness in response to different levels of predation pressure (Lott 1991): if anxiety is reduced by proximity with conspecifics, then aggregation is more likely to occur when risk of predation is high.
Can the perspective of emotional mediation increase our understanding of the dynamics of animal conflict resolution? Much is known about the patterns and possible function of reconciliation, that is, a friendly reunion between former opponents following a conflict, in nonhuman primates (de Waal, Chapter 2; Cords & Aureli, Chapter 9; Appendix A), but we do not know what is at the basis of the high flexibility of this behavior. For example, the same individual reconciles more often with certain group members (e.g., kin) than with others (e.g., Aureli et al. 1997); pairs of individuals increase their reconciliation frequency after the value of their relationship has increased (Cords & Thurnheer 1993); juveniles learn from juveniles of another species to reconcile at higher rates (de Waal & Johanowicz 1993). Can this flexibility be explained by variation in the underlying emotions?