A practical guide to the study of social relationships

Joan Silk, Dorothy Cheney, Robert Seyfarth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Behavioral ecologists have devoted considerable effort to identifying the sources of variation in individual reproductive success. Much of this work has focused on the characteristics of individuals, such as their sex and rank. However, many animals live in stable social groups and the fitness of individuals depends at least in part on the outcome of their interactions with other group members. For example, in many primate species, high dominance rank enhances access to resources and reproductive success. The ability to acquire and maintain high rank often depends on the availability and effectiveness of coalitionary support. Allies may be cultivated and coalitions may be reinforced by affiliative interactions such as grooming, food sharing, and tolerance. These findings suggest that if we want to understand the selective pressures that shape the social behavior of primates, it will be profitable to broaden our focus from the characteristics of individuals to the properties of the relationships that they form with others. The goal of this paper is to discuss a set of methods that can be used to quantify the properties of social relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-225
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary anthropology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Behavioral analysis
  • Dyadic relationships
  • Methods
  • Observational methods
  • Social bonds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology


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