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On evolution of leave-taking

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

Have you ever wondered how fascinating it would be to research a topic that anyone barely touched upon? Lucy Baehren found herself in a similar position when she started conducting her research on leave-taking. While the topic of greeting (with all social aspects linked to it) among humans and primates is reasonably well covered, the same does not apply to saying goodbyes. Furthermore, those few studies examining leave-taking are concerned mostly with human linguistics, and part of them focused on primates are not particularly cross-referenced. All of this indicates how much is this topic under-researched.

Saying goodbye may seem to us as a mundane and ordinary task. Still, the question, whether it is a domain of exclusively human behaviour has a great potential for a better understanding of anthropogenesis. Baehren pointed out that process of leave-taking is constituted from three levels, and we need to be aware of which one of them we are studying. Generally, there is a distinction between frequently leaving for a short period (leaving for school every morning), less frequent long-term leaves (vacation or business trip) and long-term permanent ones (moving away from parents). Each of these sections has several sub-categories. For example, among frequent short-time separations can also be counted moments when we leave a room (also occupied by someone else apart from us) but remain within the same household.

Baehren focused her research on behaviours habitually occurring among baboons before the intended separation took form. She undertook three months of fieldwork in Mozambique, making opportunistic videos of baboons in their natural habitat. From hours of recordings, she had to select only parts in which the behaviour of animals before separation was clearly visible, and the whole leave-taking process was not interrupted by interaction with another baboon. A potential reoccurring behavioural pattern that she detected was the orientation of the individual in the direction of departure, several-second-long eye gaze in the same way and self-scratch. All these parts of separation with details on the evolution of leave-taking will be analysed in much greater depth in the paper that is currently in preparation. Lucy Baehren showed us several pages from it during her talk, so we are looking forward to reading it once it is published and recommend it to everyone interested in the topic.

-Jakub Senesi

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