London: It's friends rather than family who actually affect how people behave, say scientists after studying monkeys.
   
A team led by Jerome Micheletta and Dr Bridget Waller at the University of Portsmouth has found that the primates are more responsive to the actions of friends than relatives, the 'Daily Mail' reported.
   
They believe that the strength of this bond of friendship could explain how other primates, including humans, develop their social skills.
   
The scientists have been studying the gaze-following -- looking where a companion is looking -- amongst a group of macaques at Marwell Wildlife in Hampshire.
   
They explained that gaze-following is seen as a "key marker of social development" as it is a way of obtaining information about what is happening around them.
   
Micheletta said that although the macaques followed the gaze of another regardless of their status as a friend, family member of dominant member, they responded much more quickly if it was a friend.
   
He said: "Our findings reveal something about the evolution of friendship and its links with cognition and communication, which have not been studied before.
   
"Our study shows that friendship, more than family ties or the status of another, improves the gaze-following ability of this particular macaque species. It is likely the same applies to other primates, including humans."

The researchers said that the research, published in the 'Animal Behaviour' journal, showed that gaze-following was not used randomly.
   
He said: "Macaques follow the gaze of others in order to cope with a complex and challenging social life. Our main finding is that gaze-following is strongly influenced by the degree of friendship between the macaques.
   
"Our results suggest that this effect of friendship seems independent of social status and family relationships."

(Agencies)