Scratching, dominance, tension, and displacement in male baboons

Stephen Phillip Easley, Anthony M. Coelho, Linda Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


This paper reports a study designed to test the hypothesis that a relationship exists among dominance rank, tension, and scratch behaviors in anubis baboons (Papio cynocephalus anubis). Our study was conducted on two groups of male baboons, each containing eight unrelated individuals who were approximately 6 years of age and who shared common rearing histories. Focal animal sampling was used to collect behavioral data. Hand scratching, foot scratching, avoid, tension, allogrooming, autogrooming, and manipulation were measured as acts performed per hour of sampling. Dominance matrices were constructed based on net difference of avoid behavior performed and received (adjusted for time sampled). Individual status ranks were grouped into two status classes, high and low. Analysis of variance models demonstrated significant differences in the performance rate of scratching behaviors by dominance rank class, as well as differences in scratching performance by tension class. Individuals in the high status class had significantly higher rates of total scratching, hand scratching, foot scratching, and tension behavior performance than their counterparts in the low status class. No significant difference was found between status classes or tension classes for performance rate of allogrooming, autogrooming, or manipulation behavior. The frequency of scratching and general level of activity were not significantly correlated. The results are interpreted to indicate the possibility that scratching may function as a displacement behavior, which subjectively appears to communicate heightened frustration, anxiety, or arousal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-411
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1987
Externally publishedYes


  • dominance
  • Olive baboon
  • Papio cynocephalus anubis
  • tension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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