Without any pre-training or restrictions in partner choice among chimpanzees, researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, found for the first time that chimpanzees housed in a socially complex, contained setting spontaneously cooperate with multiple partners of their choosing. This finding, which addresses long-standing doubt about the level of cooperation chimpanzees are able to spontaneously achieve or understand, is published in the June 12 issue of PeerJ.
“Cooperation among primates has attracted considerable research because of the evolutionary implications that such research has for human behavior and the ubiquity of cooperation among wild primates,” says lead author Malini Suchak, PhD. “Cooperation is often regarded as less puzzling than altruistic behavior, but only in an evolutionary sense. In the moment, cooperation often consists of a series of potentially complex decisions involving a choice of partners. When multiple partners are available, an individual must consider with whom to cooperate, if that individual has been a good partner previously, how much to invest in the partner, what to expect in return and if the cooperation will yield more benefits than solitary effort,” Suchak continues.
In the study, which included Yerkes researchers Frans de Waal, PhD, Matt Campbell, PhD, and Tim Eppley, Suchak found the chimpanzees spontaneously cooperated 3,565 times over the course of 94 one-hour sessions. The chimpanzees’ success rate and efficiency increased over time, whereas the amount of pulling in the absence of a partner decreased, demonstrating the animals had learned they needed a partner to succeed.