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Chimps are more cooperative than competitive

Statesman News Service |

When presented with a choice, chimpanzees are likely to work together up to five times more than competing with fellow apes, finds an interesting study.

The findings showed that although chimpanzees are highly competitive amongst each other, they also possess similar ability as humans to prevent competition and favour cooperation.

The study challenges common perception that humans are unique in their ability to cooperate and chimpanzees are overly competitive, and also suggests that the ability to cooperate is common among other primates.

"Given the ratio of conflict to cooperation is quite similar in humans and chimpanzees, our study shows striking similarities across species and gives another insight into human evolution," said lead author Malini Suchak, Assistant Professor at Canisius College in New York, US.

For the study, the team set up a cooperative task that closely mimicked chimpanzees’ natural conditions and provided them with an open choice to select partners giving them plenty of reason to compete.

The researchers gave 11 great apes thousands of opportunities to pull cooperatively at an apparatus filled with rewards.

While the setup provided ample opportunities for competition, aggression and freeloading, the chimpanzees overwhelmingly performed cooperative acts — 3,565 times across 94 hours of test sessions.

"When we considered chimpanzees’ natural behaviours, we thought surely they must be able to manage competition on their own, so we gave them the freedom to employ their own enforcement strategiesm,” Suchak added.

The chimpanzees used a variety of enforcement strategies to overcome competition, displacement and freeloading, which the researchers measured by attempted thefts of rewards.

These strategies included the chimpanzees directly protesting against others, refusing to work in the presence of a freeloader, which supports avoidance as an important component in managing competitive tendencies, and more dominant chimpanzees intervening to help others against freeloaders.

Such third-party punishment occurred 14 times, primarily in response to aggression between the freeloader and the chimpanzee that was working in cooperation with others for the rewards.

"The natural world is full of cooperation, from ants to killer whales. Our study is the first to show that our closest relatives know very well how to discourage competition and freeloading. Cooperation wins!" explained Frans de Waal, Professor at Emory University in Georgia, US.

The results were published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.