A series of trials by scientists found that chimpanzees not
only coordinate actions with each other but also understand the need to help a
partner perform their role to achieve a common goal.
How the study was
Pairs of chimpanzees were given tools to get grapes out of a
box. They had to work together with a tool each to get the food out. Scientists
found that the chimpanzees would solve the problem together, even swapping
tools, to pull the food out.
The study, published in Biology
Letters, by scientists from Warwick Business School, UK, and the Max Planck
Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, sought to find out
if there were any evolutionary roots to humans' ability to cooperate and
Dr Alicia Melis, Assistant Professor of Behavioural Science
at Warwick Business School, said: "We want to find out where humans'
ability to cooperate and work together has come from and whether it is unique
"Many animal species cooperate to achieve mutually
beneficial goals like defending their territories or hunting prey. However, the
level of intentional coordination underlying these group actions is often
unclear, and success could be due to independent but simultaneous actions
towards the same goal.
"This study provides the first evidence that one of our
closest primate relatives, the chimpanzees, not only intentionally coordinate
actions with each other but that they even understand the necessity to help a
partner performing her role in order to achieve the common goal.
"These are skills shared by both chimpanzees and
humans, so such skills may have been present in their common ancestor before
humans evolved their own complex forms of collaboration"
What the findings
The study, revealed in a paper entitled Chimpanzees' (Pan
troglodytes) strategic helping in a collaborative task, looked at 12
chimpanzees at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya, which provides
lifelong refuge to orphaned chimpanzees, who have been illegally traded as pets
or saved from the 'bushmeat' trade.
The chimpanzees were put into pairs, with one needed at the
back and one at the front of a sealed plastic box. Through a hole the
chimpanzee at the back had to push the grapes onto a platform using a rake. The
chimpanzee at the front then had to use a thick stick and push it through a
hole to tilt the platform so the grapes would fall to the floor and both could
pick them up to eat.
One chimpanzee was handed both tools and they had to decide
which tool to pass to the partner. Ten out of 12 individuals solved the task
figuring out that they had to give one of the tools to their partner and in 73
per cent of the trials the chimpanzees chose the correct tool.
Dr Melis said: "There were great individual differences
regarding how quickly they started transferring tools to their partner.
However, after transferring a tool once, they subsequently transferred tools in
97 per cent of the trials and successfully worked together to get the grapes in
86 per cent of the trials.
"This study provides the first evidence that
chimpanzees can pay attention to the partner's actions in a collaborative task,
and shows they know their partner not only has to be there but perform a
specific role if they are to succeed. It shows they can work strategically
together just like humans do, working out that they not only need to work
together but what roles each chimpanzee has to do in order to succeed.
"Although chimpanzees are generally very competitive
when trying to gain access to food and would rather work alone and monopolize
all the food rewards, this study shows that they are willing and able to
strategically support the partner performing their role when their own success
is dependent on the partner's."