Targeted helping and cooperation in zoo-living chimpanzees and bonobos

Suska Nolte, Josep Call

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Directly comparing the prosocial behaviour of our two closest living relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees, is essential to deepening our understanding of the evolution of human prosociality. We examined whether helpers of six dyads of chimpanzees and bonobos transferred tools to a conspecific. In the experiment ‘Helping’, transferring a tool did not benefit the helper, while in the experiment ‘Cooperation’, the helper only obtained a reward by transferring the correct tool. Chimpanzees did not share tools with conspecifics in either experiment, except for a mother–daughter pair, where the mother shared a tool twice in the experiment ‘Helping’. By contrast, all female–female bonobo dyads sometimes transferred a tool even without benefit. When helpers received an incentive, we found consistent transfers in all female–female bonobo dyads but none in male–female dyads. Even though reaching by the bonobo receivers increased the likelihood that a transfer occurred, we found no significant species difference in whether receivers reached to obtain tools. Thus, receivers' behaviour did not explain the lack of transfers from chimpanzee helpers. This study supports the notion that bonobos might have a greater ability to understand social problems and the collaborative nature of such tasks.
Original languageEnglish
Article number201688
Number of pages19
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2021


  • Cooperation
  • Chimpanzees
  • Altruism
  • Bonobos
  • Instrumental helping


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