View Full Version : Chimps Reveal Origins of Sharing & Fair Play

Scarlet Ibis
01-15-2013, 04:43 AM


The human tendency to share may have more ancient evolutionary routes than previously thought.

This is according to a study of the performance of chimpanzees in a test called the "ultimatum game".

Traditionally, the game is employed as a test of economics; two people decide how to divide a sum of money.

This modified game, in which two chimps decided how to divide a portion of banana slices, seems to have revealed the primates' generous side.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was part of an effort to uncover the evolutionary routes of why we share, even when it does not make economic sense.

Scientists say this innate fairness is an important foundation of co-operative societies like ours....

...Dr Proctor and her colleagues trained their chimp participants to play a similar game, using coloured tokens to represent a reward.

"We tried to abstract it a little - to make it a bit like money," Dr Proctor explained.

"We trained them with two different tokens.

"If they took [a white token], they would be able to split the food equally, and taking the other [blue] token meant that the first chimp would get more food than the partner."

The researchers presented both tokens to the first chimp, which would then choose one and offer it to its partner.

As with the human version of the game, if the partner accepted the token, both animals received their reward.

Three pairs of chimps played this game, and the results revealed that the animals had a tendency to offer a fair and equal share of the food reward.

In another experiment, the team repeated the test with 20 children between the ages of two and seven. They discovered that both young children and chimps "responded like humans typically do" - tending to opt for an equal division of the prize.

"What we're trying to get at is the evolutionary route of why humans share," explained Dr Proctor.

"Both chimps and people are hugely cooperative; they engage in cooperative hunting, they share food, they care for each other's offspring.

"So it's likely that this [fairness] was needed in the evolution of cooperation....

Scarlet Ibis
01-15-2013, 04:44 AM
Here is the part I found most interesting about the article:

[i]Dr Susanne Schultz from the University of Manchester said the study was very interesting and showed "the potential for chimps to be aware of fair offers".

"It is interesting that changing the study design - primarily by not using food rewards it seems - one can elicit fairness behaviour in chimps," she told the BBC.

So I'm assuming food seems to bring out selfishness in primates.

01-19-2013, 08:10 AM

I assume that refers to the part of the linked story basically saying "when rewards are direct (as if with mere food), chimps are selfish; but with the tokens, chimps will cooperate"? Or am I misreading something?