Chimps cooperate strategically, study finds
and World Science staff
Chimps are willing to help each other, at least when they get something out of it—and they show some ability to strategize about how they do it, a study has found.
Researchers are interested in how chimps cooperate because as humans’ closest evolutionary relatives, they may help reveal how human cooperation evolved.
Researchers with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, devised experiments where chimpanzees needed to recruit other chimpanzees to help them reach food on a platform.
The chimpanzees seemed to keep track of their success with each potential partner and eventually learned to choose collaborators who were better helpers, the researchers reported.
A previous study has found the chimps are unwilling to help stranger when they don’t profit from it in any way. But this study, researchers noted, shows that they can cooperate otherwise—and they do so effectively.
“Chimpanzees can work together effectively when they profit directly,” wrote Joan Silk of the University of California, Los Angeles, in a commentary on the study. Both her commentary and the study itself appeared in the the March 3 issue of the research journal Science.
The journal also contains yet another study comparing the helping abilities of babies and chimps, from researchers at the same institute.
The researchers studied whether babies and chimps would help an adult who was obviously struggling with a task, such as stacking books and reaching objects.
The infants seemed to understand the struggles and were eager to help on all the tasks, the scientists found. The chimpanzees were willing to help the humans reach an object, but were less reliable helpers on other tasks.
“Children and chimpanzees are both willing to help, but appear to differ in their ability to interpret the other’s need for help in different situations,” the researchers wrote.
“People thought helping behaviour was unique to humans, but maybe chimps aren’t as different as we thought,” said the institute’s Felix Warneken. “Perhaps there was a tiny bit of altruism in our evolutionary ancestor and it’s grown so much stronger in modern humans.”
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