Social Decision-Making in Bonobos and Chimpanzees

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Krupenye, Christopher


Hare, Brian A

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Humans are natural politicians. We obsessively collect social information that is both observable (e.g., about third-party relationships) and unobservable (e.g., about others’ psychological states), and we strategically employ that information to manage our cooperative and competitive relationships. To what extent are these abilities unique to our species, and how did they evolve? The present dissertation seeks to contribute to these two questions. To do so, I take a comparative perspective, investigating social decision-making in humans’ closest living relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees. In Chapter 1, I review existing literature on theory of mind—or the ability to understand others’ psychological states—in these species. I also present a theoretical framework to guide further investigation of social cognition in bonobos and chimpanzees based on hypotheses about the proximate and ultimate origins of their species differences. In Chapter 2, I experimentally investigate differences in the prosocial behavior of bonobos and chimpanzees, revealing species-specific prosocial motivations that appear to be less flexible than those exhibited by humans. In Chapter 3, I explore through decision-making experiments bonobos’ ability to evaluate others based on their prosocial or antisocial behavior during third-party interactions. Bonobos do track the interactions of third-parties and evaluate actors based on these interactions. However, they do not exhibit the human preference for those who are prosocial towards others, instead consistently favoring an antisocial individual. The motivation to prefer those who demonstrate a prosocial disposition may be a unique feature of human psychology that contributes to our ultra-cooperative nature. In Chapter 4, I investigate the adaptive value of social cognition in wild primates. I show that the recruitment behavior of wild chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania is consistent with the use of third-party knowledge, and that those who appear to use third-party knowledge receive immediate proximate benefits. They escape further aggression from their opponents. These findings directly support the social intelligence hypothesis that social cognition has evolved in response to the demands of competing with one’s own group-mates. Thus, the studies presented here help to better characterize the features of social decision-making that are unique to humans, and how these abilities evolved.





Krupenye, Christopher (2016). Social Decision-Making in Bonobos and Chimpanzees. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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