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Public Displays of Affection May Have Evolutionary Benefit

Update Date: Feb 20, 2013 12:46 PM EST

When many of us think of public displays of affection, we think of 13-year-olds creating Facebook statuses about how they will be together forever. As annoying as these displays may be to other people, they may have an evolutionary benefit as well. That's the conclusion of a study conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; the University of Chicago; and the Imperial College London.

According to LiveScience, the study was conducted with monogamous birds, like the great crested grebe. Birds - and many other animals - lure partners with a variety of tactics, like elaborate feathers and mating dances. However, in the beginning of the 20th century, biologist Julian Huxley noticed something rather strange. The Great Crested grebes would continue these mating rituals until well after mating. These behaviors, like rising out of the water together with weed on their beaks, could be compared to humans holding hands. That prompted the question: why? After all, mating displays make sense if the animal wants to procure a mate. But, after the mate has already been obtained, mating rituals can be energy-draining and even call attention from predators.

The recent study looked at previous studies that had been conducted. They noted that pairs of animals were better equipped to raise multiple offspring. They also noted that, in monogamous animals, when researchers interfered with mating displays, the animals invested less in their offspring. By combining the two findings, the new study concluded that mating displays help strengthen the bond between the parents which, in turn, helps them invest more in their offspring. Therefore, prolonged mating displays can strengthen the chances of reproductive success. Researchers note that these displays cannot last forever, but they can be prolonged long enough to ensure reproductive success.

The study could also be applicable to humans. After all, humans are prone to displays of affection well after the courtship stages - hand-holding, cuddling, kissing and the like. The study suggests that, for monogamous animals like humans, those displays could help strengthen parental attachment to their children, boosting the chances of those offspring surviving.

The study was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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