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Apaciguamiento y reconciliación

Autor/autores: Beatriz Arbaizar , Paula Suarez-Pinilla, Javier Llorca
Fecha Publicación: 17/09/2014
Área temática: .
Tipo de trabajo: 


Este artículo revisa  desde un punto de vista evolutivo las relaciones de balance positivo que a veces se establecen  entre el captor y su víctima. Nos centramos principalmente en los primates ya que estos comparten  con nosotros un alto nivel de organización social. Concluimos que no solo las estrategias de sumisión ?apaciguamiento  son las que vemos en los abusos domésticos e infantiles sino que ocasionalmente vemos estrategias de reconciliación-verdaderos sentimientos positivos  entre agresor y víctima como los descritos en el Síndrome de Estocolmo. Finalmente ligamos las estrategias  de sumisión al cerebro paleo-mamífero  mientras que vinculamos la reconciliación al cerebro neo-mamífero.

Palabras clave: apaciguamiento; reconciliación; síndrome de estocolmo; sumisión


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Arbaizar B. Psiquiatria.com. 2014; 18:9.

Artículo Original
Apaciguamiento y reconciliación
Appeasement and reconciliation

Beatriz Arbaizar1, Paula Suarez-Pinilla2, Javier Llorca3
Este artículo revisa desde un punto de vista evolutivo las relaciones de balance positivo que a
veces se establecen entre el captor y su víctima.
Nos centramos principalmente en los primates ya que estos comparten con nosotros un alto
nivel de organización social. Concluimos que no solo las estrategias de sumisión ­
apaciguamiento son las que vemos en los abusos domésticos e infantiles sino que
ocasionalmente vemos estrategias de reconciliación-verdaderos sentimientos positivos entre
agresor y víctima como los descritos en el Síndrome de Estocolmo.
Finalmente ligamos las estrategias de sumisión al cerebro paleo-mamífero
vinculamos la reconciliación al cerebro neo-mamífero.

mientras que

Palabras claves: apaciguamiento, reconciliación, Síndrome de Estocolmo, sumisión.
The aim of this article is to review current knowledge about the positive relation sometimes
established between oppressor-captor and victim from the evolutionary theory viewpoint.
As primates share with human beings a high level of social organization, we focus mainly in
them. We conclude that submission-appeasement is often seen in domestic and child abuse but
reconciliation can sometimes be observed too ­ true positive feelings of victim towards
aggressor- which appear in Stockholm syndrome and occasionally in domestic and child abuse.
Finally we interpret submission as a more ancient mechanism linked to the paleomammalian
brain and reconciliation as a mechanism associated with the greater complexity of the social
network and linked to the neo ­mammalian brain.
Keywords: appeasement, reconciliation, Stockholm syndrome, submission.

Recibido: 09/02/2013 ­ Aceptado: 27/02/2013 ­ Publicado: 17/09/2014

* Correspondencia: beatrizarbaizar@yahoo.es
1, 2 D Service of Psychiatry, University Hospital Marques de Valdecilla, Santander, Spain.
3 University of Cantabria, Santander, Spain; CIBER Epidemiologia y Salud Publica (CIBERESP), Spain;
IFIMAV, Santander, Spain

Psiquiatria.com ­ ISSN: 1137-3148
© 2014 Arbaizar B, Suarez-Pinilla P, Llorca J.

Arbaizar B. Psiquiatria.com. 2014; 18:9 - http://hdl.handle.net/10401/6604

Some authors have drawn attention to the positive feelings that have sometimes been
established between aggressor and victim; as they said this cooperative behavior may often be
seen in abused children, within domestic abuse and in the Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm
syndrome has been described as the emotional positive bond that a kidnap victim can display
towards his/her aggressor (Alexander and Klein, 2009; Namnyak et al, 2008). When it occurs,
its usual result is a very surprising reaction for the observers. These behaviors have been
conceptualized by Cantor and Price as defensive appeasement behaviors that try to prevent a
new aggression as well as the costs that could result from the exclusion of the victim from the
group (Cantor and Price 2007).
The appeasement has been explained by these authors in the context of the hunter-gatherer
society, where the intergroup conflicts were frequently lethal, and women were often kidnapped
by rival tribes; as resources were so scarce in those times, with such a high rate of mortality, the
need for survival and gene transmission would have facilitated the selection of this behavior
(Cantor and Price 2007).
In this paper, we will review the management of aggression in primates with the aim of
shedding some light on the same behaviors in human beings. The three major mechanisms in
primates for reducing the cost of aggression are described as: avoidance, submission, and in
some species reconciliation (Kutsukake and Clutton-Bruck 2008).
Our main assumption is that avoidance is not possible in these situations or, when it is possible,
the victim's fear that his/her plan might fail blocks avoidance, which is the reason why we will
focus on submission and reconciliation.

Aggression in primates
Different types of primates exhibit diverse grades of aggression intensity; for instance, bonobos
show less severe forms of aggression than chimpanzees. This has been explained as a
consequence of a lower necessity for food competition in bonobos (Williams et al. 2002;
Furuichi 2011).
In general, it seems that social patterns in primates are the outcome of different environmental
pressures: on the one hand, the risk of predation; on the other, the competition for food. This
outcome appears to determine the nature of social relationships (Sterck et al. 1997).
It has also been observed that different macaque species show several grades of aggression;
higher aggression rates are associated with lower serotoninergic activity and greater
polymorphism of gene protein transporter including S allele, while more tolerant macaques
exhibit more monomorphic serotoninergic genes; lower serotoninergic activity seems to be
associated with greater social isolation, early dispersal and heightened maternal protectiveness
(Westergard et al. 1999; Thierry. 2007).
There are many references that link the disruption of the serotonin system with aggressiveness;
briefly, humans and macaques with reduced levels of the serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxy-indole
acetic acid (5-HIAA) in cerebrospinal fluid show more violent behavior; for instance, rhesus
macaques have shown higher levels of impulsivity and aggression and lack of submission
associated with low levels of serotonin (Coccaro et al. 1997; Berman et al. 2009; Hare et al.


Arbaizar B. Psiquiatria.com. 2014; 18:9 - http://hdl.handle.net/10401/6604

Polymorphism at the promoter region of the gene encoding the serotonin transporter protein
has also been found in humans; different genotypes of the two main alleles identified as S and L
could produce a different tendency towards aggression and impulsivity (Thierry 2007).

Submission has been referred to as one of the paleomammalian defenses: withdrawal,
immobility, aggressive defense, and appeasement (Marks 1987). Appeasement could basically be
a defense facing dominant conspecific beings; it could involve pacification, conciliation and
submission (Cantor 2005). As a paleomammalian defence mechanism, submission activities can
be seen in numerous other mammals such as wolves, hyenas, dogs, etc. The deployment of
several postural attitudes of submission could serve to reduce conflict and preserve social bonds
(Hecht et al 2012). Submission or appeasement behaviors include, for instance, reduction in
apparent size and prostration, more specific submission behaviors are e.g. in dogs bending back
the ears and rolling on their backs, facial blushing, avoidance eye contact in humans.
There are different styles of social organization within the same genus as it can be observed in
macaques: some species display a great asymmetric dominance with high-intensity
unidirectional aggression; e.g., rhesus macaque societies express high dominant asymmetry in
their social relationships, the aggression is usually unidirectional and the attacked individual
can only flee or submit as a response to the offense, subordinates are forced to use submission
reaction It is supposed that the fear of being injured reduces opportunities of displaying
affiliative contact, while appeasement behavior would reduce the probability of conflict
escalation. (Thierry et al. 1990); as it can be expected, low rates of reconciliation are exhibited
within these groups (Thierry 2007; Arnold and Barton 2001a)

Reconciliation is defined as the contact that can come soon after conflict between former
opponents, which may repair the relation, diminishing the probability of a new aggression and
reducing social stress mainly in the victim, also serving to maintain group cohesion which is
necessary to achieve agonistic benefits. Reconciliation can be seen in several species as dogs,
wolfs, ravens , dolphins ... its behaviors include, among others, allogrooming, contact sitting,
facial expressions, hugging, kissing, and sociosexual behavior.
The rate of reconciliatory tendencies varies highly among the different species of primates,
which would be a consequence of the different rates of benefits. It can be assumed that
reconciliation will only occur when benefits exceed the costs: the higher the benefits, the more
probable the reconciliation is (Cal et al. 1999; Watts 2006; Fraser et al. 2008a). Thus, a narrow
range of variation in rates of reconciliation within individuals from the same species can be
expected; for instance, some species of macaques display a great asymmetric dominance: highintensity and unidirectional aggression, others with less aggression tendency or with more
tolerant stiles of conflict resolution exhibit higher reconciliatory tendencies. It could be found
more tension-reducing contacts within the latter groups. Post-conflict contacts into these groups
can sometimes be initiated by the offender and sometimes by the victim (Arnold and Barton
2001a; Thierry 2007); more interesting, specific reconciliation behaviors can sometimes be
found in some species: chimpanzees during reconciliation acts, display behaviors that are
scarcely viewed in other contexts (e.g.: kissing) (Arnold and Barton 2001b).


Arbaizar B. Psiquiatria.com. 2014; 18:9 - http://hdl.handle.net/10401/6604

The patterns of aggression and dominance also change in tune to the degree of kin social
preference relationships, the kin social preferences being weaker in the groups that display less
asymmetric dominance.
Sociosexual reconciliation pattern deserves a specific comment: Sociosexual reconciliation
behavior usually occurs early after the conflict and is especially frequent between unrelated
individuals, while post-conflict allogrooming and contact sitting tend to occur later and are
more common among previously friendly or related individuals. Post-conflict sexual contact
seems to be widespread; some authors consider that immediately after conflict, close physical
proximity increases the risk of renewing the aggression; a rapid sociosexual exchange can act in
order to reduce the possibility of renewing the aggression (Aureli and van Schaik. 1991; Cal et al.
Reconciliation is not the only affiliative behavior observed after aggression, consolation
sometimes takes place in chimpanzees: a third part, not directly involved in the conflict, relieves
the victim; this may also be a mechanism to reduce the stress levels in the victim and within the
group. It seems that reconciliation is less probable when consolation has already occurred
(Arnold and Barton. 2001b; Fraser et al. 2008b). A remarkable feature is that, in high
asymmetric dominance groups, looking for consolation can be interpreted by the aggressor as a
challenge and, thus, could lead to the renewal of the aggression (de Waal. 1988; Cantor and
Price 2007). The reconciliation mechanism could be understood as result of the humans beings'
need to achieve a complex ability in interaction within conspecifics; this necessity favours the
human cortical expansion; humans have the most extended skills of cooperation with nonrelatives (Dunbar. 1998; NowaK. 2006; Rilling. 2008); this capacity would be centralized in the
so-called neomammalian brain, which corresponds to the anatomical cerebral cortex.
Furthermore, the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT)seems to play a role in promoting human
cooperation by preventing amygdala activation with the consequent reduction in stress and
anxiety, the medial orbitofrontal cortex(OFC) may also participate; it would be one of the main
steps for controlling cooperation behaviors (Heinrichs et al. 2003; Rilling. 2008).

Our suggestion is that pressure of selection could have driven the evolution of these hierarchical
aggressive and affiliative intra-group behaviors:iIn highly social species, reconciliation is a
necessary premise for achieving group objectives (Aureli and Schaffner. 2006). Neo-mammalian
cognitive reactions are more complex than reptilian and paleomammalian reactions;
reconciliation has been understood as a survival defense mechanism in a potential high-risk
scenario and linked to a higher levels of cognition organization (i.e.: executive functions)
(Strentz. 1980; Namnyak et al. 2008; Alexander and Klein. 2009). In the same way, a very
remarkable idea is what some authors have denominated the domestication syndrome: this
could be the result of selection (natural selection or artificial selection) within the species, and
could serve to reduce aggressiveness and to increase social tolerance as a characteristic feature
of a new branch as would have occurred with numerous domesticated species (Trut et al. 2009)
Domestication syndrome may be accompanied by other modifications that would propitiate
phenotypic similarities with the result of an identifiable and characteristic phenotype; this
would comprise: 1) At a physiological level: reduced reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenal axis that would promote later adjustments in the limbic and serotoninergic systems; 2)
at a morphological level: reduction of tooth size, depigmentation of parts of the body, floppy
ears, shortening of the face, reduction of sexual dimorphism, etc.; 3)at a development level: a


Arbaizar B. Psiquiatria.com. 2014; 18:9 - http://hdl.handle.net/10401/6604

delay in the development of progenies and increase of prosocial behaviors such as play or
grooming; and finally, 4) at a cognitive level: an increase in capacity in problem-solving abilities
can be found (Trut. 1999; Lewejohann et al. 2010; Hare et al. 2012).
We want not to finish without mentioning the possibility of redirection of aggression.
Redirection of aggression has been observed in several species of primates: aggression can be
directed towards a third part, especially the aggressor's kin; the frequency of this reaction
obviously decreases after reconciliation has occurred (Arnold and Barton. 2001 a). Redirection
of aggression is usually not possible in Stockholm Syndrome but could appear in children and
victims of domestic abuses; it could serve us to approach to the concept that psychoanalytic
literature has denominated "the repetition compulsion".
Our work is only interpretative: we attempt to transfer ethological contributions towards the
mental health fields. We are aware of the limitations of the abrupt translation of some pieces of
information from non-human primates to the understanding of complex behavior of human
beings, but nevertheless, we think this can contribute in some way to our storehouse of
knowledge about these occasional and very surprising behaviors.

Submission ­a passive acceptance ­ is frequently seen in abused children and victims of
domestic abuses, while reconciliation ­true positive links- is the nucleus of Stockholm
syndrome although it could occasionally appear in children and victims of domestic abuse. We
consider submission as a paleomammalian defense, and reconciliation as a neo-mammalian
defense linked to the emergence of agriculture -i.e.: increase of food resources- and the greater
needs for social cooperation.


Arbaizar B. Psiquiatria.com. 2014; 18:9 - http://hdl.handle.net/10401/6604

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Arbaizar B, Suarez-Pinilla P, Llorca J. Apaciguamiento y reconciliación. Psiquiatria.com
[Internet]. 2014 [citado 17 Sep 2014]; 18:9. Disponible en: http://hdl.handle.net/10401/6604


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