Thursday, 22 September 2011

Unlike Humans, Chimpanzees Don’t Enjoy Collaborating

Wired Science (Sept. 22, 2011) - When it benefits them, chimpanzees willingly work together. Otherwise, they can’t be bothered.

For humans, collaboration is rewarding for its own sake, a behavioral split that may underlie key differences between human and chimpanzee societies.

Primate researchers, working with semi-free ranging chimpanzees at a sanctuary in Uganda, found chimpanzees recruit a helping partner only if it gets them more food than they’d get alone. The study, described in Animal Behavior, Sept. 7, is part of a current trend in primatology to unpick how motivation and mental state affects an animal’s interactions.

“It looks like motivation plays a very important role in how we behave,” said Anke Bullinger, primary author. “And it gives a hint that even though species might be cognitively capable of doing certain things, they might not show the behavior, because they just don’t want to.”

The extent of human cooperation is unique, but not cooperation itself. Chimpanzees, bonobos, elephants and many birds work together for joint rewards.

“The interesting thing is that there isn’t much research on the motivational aspects of this,” Bullinger said. “I suspect that motivation plays a role in many aspects of cognition, not just in cooperative behavior, but also in social learning, in communication.”

For the study, Bullinger and her colleagues set food boards out of the chimpanzee’s direct reach. To bring the banana bearing platforms close, the chimps pulled on a rope resting on the ground. Chimpanzees had two options. One board they could pull close solo. On another board, loose rope threaded between loops. To get these boards, both ends had to be pulled, so the chimpanzee had to go get their partner, waiting in an adjoining room.

When Bullinger placed two banana pieces on the single board, and four pieces on the partner board, amounting to the same payoff for each chimpanzee, the animals chose to work alone the vast majority of the time. If another banana piece for each was added to the partner board, the chimpanzees overwhelmingly choose to collaborate.

“We were a bit surprised that just one more piece made such a difference,” Bullinger said.

The study implies that chimpanzees view others as social tools, as a means of maximizing their own rewards.

Continue reading: "Unlike Humans, Chimpanzees Don’t Enjoy Collaborating"

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