There are still biological and behavioral mysteries to social bonding that experts are trying to figure out. With so many factors at play it can be hard to put a fine point on why we do some things and not others to get close to one another. Sometimes, it pays to look at other examples of mammalian bonding, such as that of vampire bats.
How can we study social bonds?
A team from Ohio State University used vampire bats to better understand how friendship and bonding occur in certain social situations. This is not the first time that humans have recruited bats to study humans, with scientists gaining insight into human language through the winged mammals.
In the Ohio Study, a group of bats mingled for six weeks before being randomly paired to live together for a week in close proximity. After this time, all the pairs were reunited with the whole group, and their behavior was monitored. Using an infrared surveillance camera, interactions were measured in the amount of time spent with each other or “grooming rates.”
“The process of how social bonds form is this fundamentally mysterious thing that a lot of people are interested in, but have very different interpretations of how it happens,” said Gerald Carter, senior author of the study.
He continued: “We’re trying to build vampire bats as a system where we can directly test these interpretations. In this experiment, we forced them together for a short amount of time and then measured their grooming rates, which increased by a specific amount over a period of time. It just hasn’t really been done before.”
Does proximity strengthen friendship?
The study, published in Biology Letters, showed that when the bats lived in close proximity to each other their bonds were strengthened. What’s more, the animals maintained this relationship in the bigger bat community for at least two months. The scientists who carried out the work suggest this result could explain the often-warm relationship of college dorm mates.
“What this experiment tells us is there is a causal relationship between being forced into the same space and actually having a preference for each other later,” Carter said. “Which is why the college dorm room is a perfect example: You get randomly paired with somebody and because of that, you continue to seek that person out later. There’s a relationship that has formed. It might be really obvious for humans, but we don’t know to what extent this is happening in other animals.”
Why is studying social bonding important?
Knowing more about social bonds can help us answer important questions about creating environments that lead to wellness and thriving for any social species. From bats to rats, to humans. We know that bonding and friendship have a profound effect on health, well-being, reproductive success, and survival. In addition, understanding the social environment is vital for conservation, animal welfare, and mental health treatment in humans.
Source study: Biology Letters – Forced proximity promotes the formation of enduring cooperative relationships in vampire bats