Humans aren't the only species that suffer through small talk

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Small talk — that filler chatter on the weather, sports, and Ugh, it's Monday again — is a pretty common human bonding mechanism. It is often annoying, true. And yet researchers argue that we do it on elevators and with our usual coffee provider not so much because we feel obligated to, but because of the human connection it helps foster. As it turns out, we're not the only species engaging in awkward small talk – primates do, too, argues a study on lemur societies, recently published in Animal Behaviour.

Lemurs have "vocal exchanges" when they're out foraging for food or traveling — calls that have, until now, confounded researchers for their purpose. But these scientists, all from Princeton University, followed a group of lemurs and found that when the primates would call out, only those that had established some level of familiarity with the calling lemur would answer back.

Take a second to look at these big-eyed lemurs:

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Humans aren't the only species that suffer through small talk
A lemur opens a Christmas package filled with food on December 23, 2015 at the zoo in La Fleche, northwestern France. / AFP / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Two ring-tailed Lemurs at Taronga Zoo play with their Christmas treats designed to challenge and encourage their natural skills in Sydney on December 4, 2015. AFP PHOTO / William WEST / AFP / WILLIAM WEST (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
WHIPSNADE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 28: Baby ring tailed lemurs make their first public appearance at the ZSL zoo on April 28, 2015 in Whipsnade, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Tony Margiocchi / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Tony Margiocchi / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WHIPSNADE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 28: Baby ring tailed lemurs make their first public appearance at the ZSL zoo on April 28, 2015 in Whipsnade, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Tony Margiocchi / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Tony Margiocchi / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A male crowned lemur is pictured at the La Haute Touche zoological park in Obterre, on July 18, 2014. Two pairs of twin crowned lemurs were born on May 2014 at the zoo. AFP PHOTO / GUILLAUME SOUVANT (Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)
A female crowned lemur and her baby which was born on May 5, 2014, are pictured at the La Haute Touche zoological park in Obterre, on July 18, 2014. Two pairs of twin crowned lemurs were born on May 2014 at the zoo. AFP PHOTO / GUILLAUME SOUVANT (Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)
SCARBOROUGH, ON - MARCH 31: A general view of Lemurs during a visit by Canadian Director David Douglas to promote his new IMAX 3D documentary 'Island of Lemurs: Madagascar' at the Toronto Zoo on March 31, 2014 in Scarborough, Canada. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
BRISTOL, ENGLAND - MAY 22: A Mongoose lemur looks out from its enclosure at Bristol Zoo Gardens on May 22, 2013 in Bristol, England. A two-week old lemur called Rascal is one of a number of baby animals, birds and reptiles have been born at Bristol Zoo Gardens now that spring has finally sprung. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
BRISTOL, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Newborn ring-tailed lemur Rascal is carried by its mother Roxy at Bristol Zoo Gardens on May 22, 2013 in Bristol, England. The two-week old is one of a number of baby animals, birds and reptiles that have been born at Bristol Zoo Gardens now that spring has finally sprung. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
'Dimbi', a blue-eyed black lemur cub (Eulemur flavifrons) is pictured at the zoo of Mulhouse, northeastern France, on April 19, 2013. There's currently less than 2,000 blue-eyed black lemurs into the wild. AFP PHOTO / SEBASTIEN BOZON (Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images)
Joviana, a lemur, gazes at the camera during a media tour at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. The lemur was the inspiration for the Kratt Brothers' (Chris and Martin), talking Coquerel's Sifaka, 'Zoboo' on the PBS children's show 'Zoboomafoo'. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
Lemur Catta, Zoo of Prague (Photo by Marka/UIG via Getty Images)
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In a way, these vocalizations could be considered the lemur version of human small talk, in that they are little noises that don't provide much information — but they do help reinforce the animals' social bonds. The researchers think that there could be something here that was passed from primates to humans. Perhaps, as groups got larger, grooming ceased to be an efficient method for establishing rapport, and calling out some small talk was a way to ensure friends and family that we were thinking of them and, therefore, cared about them.

Put another way, much like with the human version of small talk, these vocalizations help foster a lemur-to-lemur connection. "Talking is a social lubricant, not necessarily done to convey information, but to establish familiarity," Ipek Kulahci, lead author of the paper, said in a press release. "I think these vocalizations are equivalent to the chitchat that we do. People think that conversations are like exchanging mini-lectures full of information. But most of the time we have conversations and forget them when we're done because they're performing a purely social function."

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