Differences in the cognitive skills of bonobos and chimpanzees

Esther Herrmann*, Brian Hare, Josep Call, Michael Tomasello

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Citations (Scopus)


While bonobos and chimpanzees are both genetically and behaviorally very similar, they also differ in significant ways. Bonobos are more cautious and socially tolerant while chimpanzees are more dependent on extractive foraging, which requires tools. The similarities suggest the two species should be cognitively similar while the behavioral differences predict where the two species should differ cognitively. We compared both species on a wide range of cognitive problems testing their understanding of the physical and social world. Bonobos were more skilled at solving tasks related to theory of mind or an understanding of social causality, while chimpanzees were more skilled at tasks requiring the use of tools and an understanding of physical causality. These species differences support the role of ecological and socio-ecological pressures in shaping cognitive skills over relatively short periods of evolutionary time.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12438
Number of pages4
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2010


  • Apes Pan-Paniscus
  • Great apes
  • Pongo-Pygmaeus
  • Gorilla-Gorilla
  • Sex-differences
  • Troglodytes
  • Barriers
  • Hormones
  • Humans


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