Intellectica, 2007/2-3, 46-47, pp. 207-219 Group Patterns, Joint Action and Social Cognition: the Simmelian Hypothesis Bernard Conein RÉSUMÉ : Schémas de groupe, action conjointe et cognition sociale : l'hypothèse simmelienne. Il y a peu de consensus sur la signification du terme ‘groupe social’. Une vision dominante en psychologie du développement et en philosophie met en avant l’attention sociale et l’action conjointe sans considérer la nature des buts sociaux (sélection des partenaires, acquisition de rang). Pour Simmel et les théoriciens de l’action conjointe, un groupe social est le résultat des actions réciproques de deux agents. Dans cette perspective (que j’appellerai l’hypothèse simmelienne) l’action conjointe mutuelle est un mécanisme constitutif générant à la fois des dyades et des groupes plus larges. L’autre, dominante en écologie comportementale et en éthologie, se focalise sur le comportement d’affiliation (coalition) et sur la gestion des relations sociales multi-niveaux. Selon cette vision (l’hypothèse de « liaison »), un groupe social est fondé sur une sélection de partenaires, des buts sociaux et des évaluations de relations. L’opposition entre les deux visions peut-elle être surmontée ou bien cellesci impliquent-elles des divergences intrinsèques portant sur des schémas de groupes et des habiletés sociales sous-tendant la liaison sociale entre humains ? Je montrerai que les deux approches s’appuient sur des figures distinctes lorsqu’elles caractérisent les schémas de groupe et les savoir-faire sociaux impliqués. Je suggérerai cependant qu’il n’y a pas nécessairement conflit entre les deux visions car les coalitions portent sur des actions coopératives conjointes. J’avance qu’une partie de la difficulté avec l’hypothèse simmelienne a à voir avec la proéminence donnée à la coopération sur la coalition et sur la négligence du contrôle social. MOTS-CLÉ : Comportement d’affiliation, Action conjointe, Cognition de groupe, Coalition ABSTRACT: There is little consensus on what the term ‘social group’ means. One prominent view in Developmental Psychology and Philosophy emphasizes social attention and joint action without considering the nature of social goals (partner’s selection, rank acquisition). A social group for Simmel and joint action theorists is the result of reciprocal actions of two agents. In that perspective (which I will call the Simmelian hypothesis) joint mutual action is a constitutive mechanism for generating both dyads (pair bonds) and larger groups. The other, dominant in Behavioral Ecology and Ethology, focuses on affiliative behavior (coalition) and the monitoring of multilevel social relationships. A social group in that view (the bonding hypothesis) is based on partner selection, social goals and relationships assessment. Can the opposition between the two views be relaxed or do they imply intrinsic divergences on group patterns and social skills that underlie human social bonding? I will show that the two approaches focus on distinct features when they characterize the group patterns and social skills involved. However I shall suggest that there are no necessary conflicts between the two views as coalitions bear upon joint cooperative actions. I propose that part of the difficulty with the Simmelian hypothesis has to do Nice-Sophia Antipolis University, LAMIC. © 2008 Association pour la Recherche Cognitive. 208 B. CONEIN with the prominence given to cooperation over coalition and the neglect of social monitoring. KEY WORDS: Affiliative behavior, Joint action, Group cognition, Coalition INTRODUCTION Social cognition has begun to be seen as a combination of several distinct simple skills dedicated to the processing of information about social relationships. This view has important implications on the way social groupings should be studied, on the conception of social skills, and how social objects are constructed in social sciences. Recent efforts within cognitive ethology and developmental psychology challenge traditional assumptions regarding group structure. One point of departure is the idea that social life is made-up by joint action based on perceptual and attentional mechanisms. However, the relationship between social skills and group patterns is difficult to characterize because there are various sources that sustain that argument. I would like to examine one aspect of the difficulty: what relation should the notion of ‘social group’ have with regard to joint action? One aspect of living in groups concerns doing things together but other aspects of social groups are related to membership, dominance and affiliative behaviors. The relation between the two aspects are often attributed to distinct traditions. I would like to underscore interesting convergences between relational sociology in the tradition of Simmel and Goffman and current works in ethology and social cognition that show how the two aspects could be conceived in a new perspective.1 1. CONCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL GROUPS I would like to consider at least two views on the relation between group and cognition: the first I called the Simmelian hypothesis which is dominant in developmental psychology and philosophy of mind, the other I called the bonding hypothesis which is prominent in ethology and behavioral ecology. The two hypotheses can be distinguished through their use of different criteria: conception of relations between group and cognition, group patterns and types of social skills. According to the first hypothesis, group patterns are grounded in dyadic units or pair bonds constituted by co-orientation, cooperation and joint action. According to the second, group patterns are multi-layered and based on coalition and affiliative behavior. It seems that we have two different ways of characterizing social groups. For the Simmelian hypothesis, groups are made up with sequences of certain actions and mental coordination. The bonding hypothesis characterizes groups in terms of durable relational structures existing both at the micro and the meso level and shaping the social environment of the agent. So the two hypotheses can be seen as defending two different responses to the same question: ‘what is a social group?’ At first glance, the two views seem difficult to reconcile. The Simmelian hypothesis conceives joint action of two agents as forming a group under certain normative conditions (joint commitment cf. Gilbert, 1996; collective commitment cf. Tuomela, 2000) and certain mental conditions (co1 This convergence has been explicitly traced by a recent paper of Michael Tomasello , Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behne, T. & Moll, H. (2005) when they mention the importance of the contributions of Gilbert and Tuomela for understanding the nature of joint action. Group Patterns, Joint Action and Social Cognition: the Simmelian hypothesis 209 intention). A social group is the result of reciprocal actions of peoples doing things together. Joint mutual action can be seen as a unique constitutive mechanism for generating both pair bonds and larger groups. What is important here is not the size of the group but the nature of the coordination that produces cooperation. Two persons can act as a group if they are related in a certain mode like the we-perspective for Tuomela (2000). An other Simmelian aspect of the hypothesis is the connexion between the social group and sociation (Vergesellschaftung) based on the idea that sociality and group life are the same thing. The relation between joint action and social grouping has recently become a focus of interest in cognitive science and social theory (Gilbert, 1996, 2003; Tuomela, 1995, 2000). Although in principle joint action theorists acknowledge the importance of group patterns, the vast majority of works in the field has been restricted to the analysis of dyadic interactions and to mechanisms of co-action and co-orientation. Some ideas about joint action and face-to-face interaction as a basic locus of sociality are similar to those in social science, especially in the writings of Simmel and Goffman. One reason to define that view as Simmelian can be found in Gilbert (1996, 2003) as Simmel (1950, 1992) appears to be the precursor of the idea that the co-action of two persons can be treated as a social group. The bonding hypothesis conceives social groups in quite different ways. One of the central ideas of the bounding hypothesis is that social grouping is multi-level layered: “primate societies should be viewed as multi-layered sets of coalitions based on relationships that differ in intensity, character and function” (Dunbar, 1988, p. 106).2 The idea that multi-level structures characterize primate societies bears some implications for the conception of primate cognition as there is, for most ethologists, a relation between sophisticated cognition and social complexity. Concerning social cognition, group patterns have direct impact on cognitive architecture. Dunbar (1993), among others, considers that the human brain evolved to make sense of and react to a complex social environment. Multi-level bonding shapes the primate social environment in a certain way by setting new constraints on the species cognition that explain why apes and human possess a complex social cognition. Not only the increase of group size but also of complexity of group patterns exerted a strong pressure for the emergence of sophisticated social skills. For the bounding hypothesis, social group cannot be reduced to local joint action systems. Even if for most ethologists like Byrne & Whiten (1988) Dunbar (1993), Wrangham (1987), primate social life bears upon closed social networks in order to sustain group cohesion (“African apes and people share a strong tendency towards closure of their social networks” (Wrangham, 1987, p. 58), the main feature of primate sociality is that the social group can be extended to the community level. Relation between cognition and group The real divergence between the two hypotheses does not only concern group scale but the relation between group patterns and cognitive architecture. In most studies on social cognition, the relation between group and cognition tends to be conceived in several forms and we will here consider three of 2 The idea that a social group consists of patterning and quality of relationships or social ties can be seen as a network approach to group patterns (see Dunbar, 1988). 210 B. CONEIN them. One can examine group cognition (common beliefs, joint intention, weattitude, collective goals) as mostly do Bratman (1999), Gilbert (1996), Pettit (2003) and Tuomela (1995). One can also describe group action, how people are bounded together in order to act as a group and the way groups are made up by actions of their members. One can also examine cognition on group relationship, the type of cognitive processes that assess or monitor social relationships and the way social objects are detected as relational objects (Cheney and Seyfarth, 1990; Premack, 1991). The three types of inquiry could be accomplished independently. One can accept that a social group is constituted through reciprocal and joint actions without asserting that groups have a mind on their own. One can consider that social cognition is cognition about social relationships without endorsing the view that groups are constituted by joint actions of their members through pair bonds. But more important, it leads us to distinguish between two distinct and challenging questions: (i) in what sense is a form of group cognition required to construct a social group? (ii) why cognition on group, eg. recognition of group relationships, shall be necessary to live in group? Most recent works on joint action are concerned with the first question: the relation between group cognition and group action by stating that common actions presuppose a form of mental coordination, we-mode or cointention, and for some writers mental coordination can be conceived as group mind distinct from personal mind (Pettit, 2003).3 Works in primatology and behavioral ecology examine the relation between cognition on group and group patterns. In addressing the second question, one can introduce a new problem: does the maintenance of complex bounding need a cognition on group built of abilities to qualify social relationships and assess their quality? Cognition on group relations If cognition on group is made up of cognitive capabilities dedicated to specific stimuli, it needs to process particular informations that are distinct from purely physical stimuli (Spelke & Kinzler, 2007). How social information is detected or derived from specialized input coming from facial expressions, tone of voice or body movements? Visual and auditory systems seem to be highly sensitive to facial expression and tone of voice (Jackendoff, 1992, p. 73). For Premack & Premack (1995) and Leslie (1995) character of movements is crucial for the understanding of group. If there is a cognition on group or a perception of group, it does not imply that a group should be taken as something that is there in the world. The notion of group is a relational notion. Regularities in behavior towards other conspecifics must be linked to a system dedicated to keeping track of those regularities. It means that a social environment is made up with a particular class of objects, relational and intentional objects, that are distinct from other physical objects. 3 The notion of mental coordination does not imply group mind if we conceive coordination in the Imode as coordination between two individuals with their own minds. It is a matter of debate as to whether we could conceive the we-mode like two persons sharing a common goal as a case of group mind. Group Patterns, Joint Action and Social Cognition: the Simmelian hypothesis 211 Premack and Premack (1995) propose that we should conceive that system by treating the notion of group as an output of a module having relational objects as an input: “The concept of group, like that of possession, concerns the relation among objects, but differs in that not only are all objects in a group intentionnal, but they are also equal in power, i.e no object controls the movement of any other” (Premack & Premack, 1995, p. 194). Under that view the existence of social groups presupposes specific expectations toward and sensibilities to certain properties of the world. In cognition on group, things being processed are relations, ties or types of relational/intentional objects: Value A Social Module B Group /Power Reciprocation or mutuality between two objects A and B can be seen as a group because it displays equal power between intentional entities. In that view, the idea of cognition on group must be seen as an aspect of a core architecture that processes relational/intentional beings as distinct class of objects (Leslie, 1995). Social skills and group patterns The bonding hypothesis explicitly defends a conception of social groups where the kind of social information processed comprise exocentric relations even if there are debates among ethologists about the nature of skills and the type of cognitive architecture that parse social relationships.4 On the contrary, for the Simmelian hypothesis, social information is not in itself information about social relations but rather mechanisms which express co-orientation or mutuality between two individuals through motion, gaze detection, reciprocal alignment or cooperation. It seems that the two hypotheses express distinct views about the relation between group and cognition; the focus is not only on different group patterns but on two contrasting models of social skills. In addition, other distinctions can be mentioned concerning group patterns and social skills. If we look at group patterns, it turns out that group size must be considered seriously. Group patterns concerns what is the appropriate basic unit which constitutes primate societies. If the main feature of grouping is mutuality, the dyad or pair bonds tend to be viewed as a basic unit for group patterning. But if the main feature of grouping is coalition, alliance or partner 4 The modular approach defended by Baron-Cohen, Leslie and Premack is not shared by all ethologists even if most of them conceive social cognition as a specific form of cognition. 212 B. CONEIN selection, the basic unit of group patterning would rather be triadic (Kummer 1979). For social skills, we can identify other possibilities. The social skills related to group cognition are made up of cognitive capabilities of maintaining or sustaining co-orientation and mental coordination (joint intention, we-perspective) through time by group actions (co-movement, gaze-following, attention-getting behavior, joint attention, collective commitment). But if social skills are seen as capabilities for detecting and assessing social relationships, other group actions must be considered (mutual grooming, visual monitoring, empathy, valuation, assessment of social ties). 2. THE ‘SIMMELIAN HYPOTHESIS’ The German sociologist Georg Simmel can be seen as one of the first to introduce the idea that social groups find their locus in the mutual action of two agents. When joint action theorists argue that groups are the result of their members’ action, they are acting as Simmelian lines even though they never throught they were.5 The simmelian inspiration Tuomela suggests that “social groups are identified by their members’ action” or “action of groups are ‘made up’ of or constituted by joint actions of persons” (Tuomela, 1995, p. 52). Joint actions are what create groups. Consequently, to identify a group by a form of social co-orientation between two individuals implies that it is defined by a joint action. The ‘Simmelian hypothesis’ consists primarily of an argument bearing both on group patterns and on bonding mechanisms. Gilbert considers that Simmel can be thought as the precursor of two main claims about what constitutes a social group: (i) dyadic joint action is the paradigm of social bonding, (ii) both dyads and large groups bear upon a common mechanism (“analysis of our concept of shared action discovers a structure that is constitutive of social group as such” (Gilbert, 1996, p. 178). Joint engagement and joint commitment What theorists of joint action like Gilbert and Tuomela add to Simmel’s theory is two important ideas: • a degree of social coordination between two individuals has to be correlated to a degree of mental coordination like joint intention or common goal; • for a shared action to emerge, the two participants in a joint action must communicate their willingness to each other to be engaged together or “jointly committed”: “Each party to a desired joint commitment must express to the other his or her readiness to be jointly committed. When this readiness has been expressed in conditions of common knowledge, the joint commitment is in place” (Gilbert, 2000). Those two other ideas fit quite well with works in developmental psychology on gaze exchange, gaze following and joint attention behavior. During social interaction, the partners manifest their willingness to be engaged 5 Margaret Gilbert (1996, 2003) is an exception as she clearly makes a link between joint action and Simmel. Group Patterns, Joint Action and Social Cognition: the Simmelian hypothesis 213 in a relationship with each other by visual cues such as gaze orientations, head and trunk motions. In a recent paper, Gilbert (2000) presents an interesting example of the sort of bonding mechanisms that are required in order to form a joint commitment. The example can easily be described as depicting a joint attentional scene where group actions are accomplished by careful alignment to the attentional states of others (Tomasello, 1999; Whiten, 1997). Example: pulling a cart up on a hill In this example, presented by Gilbert, one person has difficulty pulling a cart up on a hill. Another person observes her difficulty and starts to help her. The person who receives help catches the gaze of the helper and smiles. The helper reciprocates the smile by saying “you are welcome”. The example can be re-described as a joint attentional scene where two persons are jointly engaged to act on an object (the cart) by tuning in to the attentional attitude and behavior of the other persons. What Tomasello (1999) describes as ‘joint engagement’ seems to be a mechanism very similar to ‘joint commitment’. Both joint action theorists and developmental psychologists seem to accept a common view on bonding mechanisms: to be socially linked, two persons must be mutually engaged in an action sharing a common goal. But beside the similarity between the two views, we can draw two distinct objections. One would be that joint engagement in mutual attention might be a bonding mechanism that does not require any group formation (see Goffman, 1961). The degree of mental coordination in joint attention is weak compared to the notion of joint commitment based upon common goal acceptance. The other objection is that joint commitment for Gilbert requires a moral obligation between the two participants that is absent from joint attentional engagement. Will this be sufficient as an argument to sustain that indeed joint commitment is related to group formation?6 3. TWO OBJECTIONS TO THE SIMMELIAN HYPOTHESIS Two claims of the Simmelian hypothesis fall under critics that both concern the relationship between joint action and group formation. An objection from Goffman (1961) A first objection has been formulated by Goffman (1961) in the preface to Encounters. Goffman argued that joint action exhibits different properties than those of a social group. Joint actions are expressed by mutual gaze and social attention. But mutuality is not enough to build up a social group, as social attention mostly prepares to an encounter or maintains a gathering of its participants. Goffman defends the autonomy of ‘the interactional order’ as a situated activity system based on participation rather than on membership. We participate to a joint action and we are members of a social group. For that purpose, in the preface, he gives a list of a series of properties that distinguish small groups from focused gatherings. What Goffman underlines is that face engagement and mutual attention are bonding mechanisms not for constituting the social group but for maintaining social contact or a ‘focused gathering’: “A crucial attribute of focused gatherings- the participant’s maintenance of continuous engrossment in the official focus of 6 Tuomela (2000), objects that joint commitment require automatically moral obligation. 214 B. CONEIN activity- is not a property of social groups in general” (Goffman, 1961, p. 11). Thus for Goffman, mechanisms of group membership and group affiliative behaviors are distinct from mechanisms for maintaining engagement in a social activity, even if there are “frequent congruence between the structure of a group and the structure of a gathering of its members”. An objection from Cosmides & Tooby (1992) Two evolutionary psychologists Cosmides & Tooby (1992) present another objection based on their model of how a cognitive architecture of the social domain should be shaped. The human social cognitive architecture is a compound of two interrelated but distinct evolved social modules. In their view, there are two main distinct kinds of social modules: one module processes social information without pursuing any social goals and the other processes social information in the pursuit of a social goal such as rank acquisition, coalition and social exchange. As in the Machiavellian hypothesis, defended by Byrne & Whiten (1988), the pursuing of a social goal is instrumental as social goals are adaptative and species-specific. Only the second kind of module can be thought of as being intrinsically social in the sense of being dedicated to the solving of problems of a social kind (“coalition formation is specifically social”). This second objection leads us to consider the claims propounded by the bonding hypothesis as it is mainly focused on coalitional groupings and group affiliation. 4. THE BONDING HYPOTHESIS The bonding hypothesis is mostly defended by cognitive ethologists and behavioral ecologists. Its distinctive feature is that it proposes different conceptions of the relation between cognition and the group, of what constitutes the unit of a social group, and how social skills should be defined. The relation between group and cognition The bonding hypothesis tends to view the relation between cognition and group as a cognition on group, or cognition made up of observed regularities in the social behavior of conspecifics. Those behavioral regularities that can be observed in the social environment of primate societies are always seen as the product of ecological pressures on primate cognition: • If primate social cognition is a cognition ‘on group’ or about social relations, this is mainly due to the fact that for most cognitive ethologists and behavioral ecologists7, the social environment of multi-level bonding creates cognitive demands and selective pressures on primate cognition. • The main aspect of the selective pressures is that most primates face the challenge of increasingly complex and multiplex links and networks patterns that might explain why they possess both complex social cognition and high order cognitive capacities such as social monitoring and relationships assessment. 7 For Dunbar (1993b) sociality is “the core of primate existence” because primates use sociality as a tool for survival: sociality is the “mark” that makes primates distinct from other species. Group Patterns, Joint Action and Social Cognition: the Simmelian hypothesis 215 Thus, one of the main ideas of the bonding hypothesis is that social environment contrasts with physical environment. The “special nature of the social environment” (Byrne & Whiten, 1988), is that it is more challenging and demanding for natural cognition. Group patterns and social skills To characterize the species-specificity of primate social environments, we must carefully look at the nature of relational patterns that produce effects on the cognitive architecture of primates. The presumption is that living in close knit groups produces tensions but also requires attention and monitoring. The detectable differences in bonding patterns of primate societies are formulated most clearly by Dunbar (1993a) in the following terms: • Close-knit groups (dyads and triads) maintain and reinforce a preferential alliance to exclude a third party, as they are mainly the locus of coalitional networks; • Most primate bonding structures are multi-layered systems that include both small coalitional groups at the micro level and larger groups at the meso level (such as bands and communities); • Coalitional groups are mutually dependant with larger groups because tighly bonded group (cliques) are the main instrument of social survival within social systems made up with large group size. Group closure occurs in order to avoid harassment and overcrowding; • The time devoted to maintaining mutual social contacts at the micro level (such as grooming for apes and conversation for humans) is related to the size of the grouping structure at the meso level. Maintaining bonding stability inside a local social group and increasing group size at the meso level requires that partners devote a large amount of time to increasing both the degree of binding inside the group and the social monitoring of others outside the group. If boundary activities link selected partners inside the group or within the coalition, at the same time they decouple potential links with other partners. So the main feature of primate group patterns is the interdependance between close-knit groups and large groups. Dense cliques need communities as much as community structures need to be fragmented into smaller substructures in order to maintain various levels of ties between members (Freeman 1993). The mechanism to increase the size of social groups bears on local coalitions between a restricted number of selected partners. Triad and not dyad One implication for group patterns is that primate society “doesn’t consist exclusively of one type of group” (Dunbar, 1993a) but mainly is seen as a balance between small close knit coalitions and large groups at the community level. Concerning the coalitional group, the paradigm is not dyad but triad, as the social group really emerges when a pair bond closes its border by setting social distance from a third party. Kummer (1967) was the first to describe the nature of coalitional group as intrinsically tripartite: a strong pair bond in a coalition is always conceived in relation with a third party. The members’ willingness to support each other for help in an alliance is a buffer against intrusion of a stranger. What is important is not that A wants to be friend with B but that A observing C wants to be friends with B as a potential ally against a third party. 216 B. CONEIN Monitoring social relationships To conceive the triad as a basic unit of grouping has a consequence for the conception of social skill. Partner selection is the result of capabilities that primates display to assess and monitor social relationships with others and between others8. The capabilities of monitoring social links with others are limited by “the number of relationships an animal can keep track of in a complex continuously changing social world” (Dunbar, 1993a). If coalitional cohesive groups are preserved by partners’ selections, among primates the selection is achieved by assessing the qualities of allies: “Primates use information about potential quality of group members as partners to establish friendly relationships. Only primates manipulate the probability of receiving help in the future from particularly valuable partners. For non primates a coalition is an end in itself, for primates it is a mean to an end” (Harcourt, 1993, p. 706). One main implication of the bonding hypothesis is that by focussing on the relation between grouping and social goals such as rank acquisition, it presents different properties that have never been thought of by the Simmelian arguments on joint action. If those properties are so distinct, how can we relax the opposition between the two hypotheses? Can those various properties be related in a more integrative framework? If we follow the arguments of Cosmides and Tooby (1992), the question will be: how heterogeneous social phenomena such as group maintenance and social monitoring could be related? COALITION AND COOPERATION I would like to present two claims that establish how the opposition between the two mentioned hypotheses can be relaxed even if there are few attempts to fill the gap in that direction. One claim concerns the fact that the social domain in primate cognition is made of various interrelated social capacities. Among primate social capacities, a distinction is often made by cognitive ethologists between two kinds of cognitive skills. Certain social skills are effectively mainly devoted to the assessment and monitoring of relationships for partners’ selection. But there is another class of social skills with different functions, as they are mainly devoted to the establishment and maintenance of strong ties among partners. Grooming activities are a good example of group maintenance based on reciprocity and co-orientation. If we accept that distinction, it has a consequence as group maintenance such as grooming is a type of joint cooperative action. Grooming is a form joint engagement mainly dedicated to the establishment and maintenance of social contact between selected partners. Social monitoring serves to support a function of social vigilance: detection and assessment of ties between partners. But even if the two abilities do indeed differ, ethologists consider that they both contribute to the formation of coalition. For cognitive ethologists, the relation between the two kinds of skills is a matter of discussion (see Harcourt 1992) but the distinction seems relevant as it has an interesting consequence for relaxing the opposition between the two hypotheses. 8 For Cheney & Seyfarth (1990), the social monitoring in primate groups is based on specific capacities of analyzing exocentric relationships with others without reference to self (see also Harcourt, 1988). Group Patterns, Joint Action and Social Cognition: the Simmelian hypothesis 217 The second argument concerns the relation between coalition and cooperation. There is strong tendency for some joint action theorists to identify cooperation and group behavior (Tuomela, 1995; Gilbert, 1996)9. A group cannot be reduced to cooperation, even if joint engagement should be seen as an important precondition for goal-oriented activity (Tomasello, 1999), the difference between cooperative behavior and coalition should be maintained. But at the same time, the two claims are combined by the ethologists as they show that group and cooperative behavior must be strongly connected. For the bonding hypothesis, individuals do not cooperate without partners’ selection. The other claim is a direct consequence of the first argument: cooperation is an important path for maintaining a coalitional group. It seems that group actions like mutual gaze, gaze-following, joint attention, touching, grooming can be viewed as an attempt to service a social relationship and reinforce bonding. We can relate group actions with all the mechanisms which are used not only to open and establish but also to reinforce durable social contacts. Group maintenance happens not only in a sequence of cooperative actions but in a succession of dyadic encounters for stabilizing durable linkages between partners. It is the reason why group action as much as group maintenance should be seen in the context of coalition and partner’s selection. Joint actions and cooperation matter for coalition and partners’ selection. For the human, as Dunbar (1993b) suggests, verbal conversations serve for micropolitics as a social tool both to maintain contacts between the participants and to assess a social link with a third party by gossiping. Simmel himself (1992/1999) has made insightful remarks to sustain that if dyadic encounters are the primary form of grouping, social groupings tend to exist at several levels. The idea that the locus of sociation is grounded in dyads is compatible, he suggests, with another idea that small groups can transmit some of their properties (mutuality, reciprocity) at the level of larger bonding. For Simmel, small groups concentrate some emerging relational properties that are responsible for properties at the meso level. It is of course a matter of discussion as to whether the properties should be seen as a result of the multi-layered nature of primate group patterns as in the bonding hypothesis or mainly the consequences of local mechanisms that appeared primarly at the micro-level. CONCLUSION It seems plausible that the social skills dedicated to group maintenance should be distinguished from related capabilities of monitoring social ties. If we admit that they both constitute two main means for building groups (maintenance of cohesion and monitoring of relations), there are no strong incompatibilities between the Simmelian hypothesis and the bonding hypothesis. There might constitute a bridge between the two opposed hypotheses. Joint attention and joint commitment are not the only mechanisms of social cognition but certainly they are part of it. 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