Hominoid Psychology Research Group

Ape Cooperation & Prosocial Preferences

Prosocial Preferences

Economists, biologists and psychologist have been fascinated by the seemingly altruistic behavior that humans demonstrate during cooperative economic games and in naturally occurring behavior. Theory and experimental evidence suggests that humans may show a level of altruistic behavior not observed in other species.  This implies that during human evolution humans evolved a tendency to help others at a cost to themselves that is not observed in our two closest living relatives the bonobo and chimpanzee. However, while we know much about the naturally occurring cooperative behavior of bonobos and chimpanzees few experiments have been conducted to test for these species prosocial preferences. This is particularly the case for the more tolerant bonobo.

We are studying prosocial preferences in bonobos, chimpanzees and humans to test (1) whether bonobos and chimpanzees will share food or other resources with others in ways observed in young human children and (2) we are studying whether human cooperation is better promoted through mechanisms of punishment or communication in ecologically relevant social contexts. In doing so we will understand the evolution of social preferences thought to be responsible for the ultra-social species that we are. Understanding the evolution of our prosocial tendencies will shed light on how we might encourage cooperative behavior in our own species.