Humans like to work together in solving tasks, chimps don't

Humans like to work together in solving tasks, chimps don't
Cooperation is child's play: children that are presented with a task that they can perform on their own or with a partner show a preference to cooperate. Credit: Image courtesy of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Recent studies have shown that chimpanzees possess many of the cognitive prerequisites necessary for humanlike collaboration. Cognitive abilities, however, might not be all that differs between chimpanzees and humans when it comes to cooperation. Researchers from the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the MPI for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen have now discovered that when all else is equal, human children prefer to work together in solving a problem, rather than solve it on their own. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, show no such preference according to a study of 3-year-old German kindergarteners and semi-free ranging chimpanzees, in which the children and chimps could choose between a collaborative and a non-collaboration problem-solving approach.

Human societies are built on collaboration. From a young age, children will recognize the need for help, actively recruit , make agreements on how to proceed, and recognize the roles of their peers to ensure success. Chimpanzees are cooperative too, working together in border patrols and group hunting, for instance. Still, humans might have greater motivation to cooperate than chimpanzees do." A preference for doing things together instead of alone differentiates humans from one of our closely related primate cousins," says Daniel Haun of the Max Planck Institute for in Leipzig, Germany and the Max Planck Institute for in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. "We expected to find differences between human and chimpanzee cooperation, because humans cooperate in a larger variety of contexts and in more complex forms than chimpanzees."

The research team presented 3-year-old German children and chimpanzees living in a Congo Republic sanctuary with a task that they could perform on their own or with a partner. Specifically, they could either pull two ends of a rope themselves in order to get a food reward or they could pull one end while a companion pulled the other. The task was carefully controlled to ensure there were no obvious incentives for the children or chimpanzees to choose one strategy over the other. "In such a highly controlled situation, children showed a preference to cooperate; chimpanzees did not", Haun points out.

The children cooperated more than 78 percent of the time compared to about 58 percent for the . These statistics show that the children actively chose to work together, while appeared to choose between their two options randomly. "Our findings suggest that behavioral differences between humans and other species might be rooted in apparently small motivational differences", says Haun.

Future work should compare cooperative motivation across primate species in an effort to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the trait, the researchers say. "Especially interesting would be other cooperative-breeding primates, or our other close relatives, the bonobos, who have both previously been argued to closely match some of the human pro-social motivations," says Yvonne Rekers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and first author of the study.

Explore further

Social tolerance allows bonobos to outperform chimpanzees on a cooperative task

More information: Yvonne Rekers, Daniel B.M. Haun and Michael Tomasello Children, but Not Chimpanzees, Prefer to Collaborate Current Biology (2011), doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.066
Citation: Humans like to work together in solving tasks, chimps don't (2011, October 13) retrieved 23 August 2019 from
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Oct 13, 2011
"Humans like to work together in solving tasks..."


I hate working with others, and so do lots of other people. Making such a wide-ranging and generalized statement from this research is not valid. Saying that humans co-operate more effectively than chimps would seem to be a more accurate summary of the research.

Oct 13, 2011
Bravo, Paul. I'm a firm believer in the old dictum "If ya want something done right, do it yourself".

Oct 13, 2011
If ya want something done right, do it yourself

Try to build a house on your own.

Oct 13, 2011
I also hate people and yes I have built a house all by myself.

Oct 13, 2011
It just depends on what you're doing.

When you have an idea, and you know for a fact it's better than the ideas of the other people in the group, but they want to do their idea anyway, maybe just because the most popular person, or the most senior person had the idea, etc, then it's pretty hard to be motivated about it.

People will follow the jock, the cheerleader, the actor, and even the class clown before they do what the smart guy says. Hey, just look at politics at any level of government, and you'll see the same thing.

In group work, nobody ever did what I said anyway, not in school, and not in any job.

Come test day, well then they wanted me to help. And do you get any thanks? Not really. If you get a "thank you" that's a stretch, if you get "real" thanks, well that's extremely rare.

People do things that are just flat out irrational and even unhealthy, and moreover, they like to encourage one another in doing that.

Oct 14, 2011
For all those who hate people:

There's no need to write comments here... to people.

Thank you

Oct 14, 2011
THIS MAY SOUND LIKE GOOD SCIENCE HERE, BUT SOMETHING IS WRONG.. All the kids I grew up with did not want to share unless they were taught that they had to share. Did This experiment have a control?

Oct 14, 2011
All the kids I grew up with did not want to share unless they were taught that they had to share.

Therein may lie the problem. The bias in your observational experiment is: you.
The kids did not want to share...with you. (You do not know if they shared when you weren't around)
Maybe it's you who are the problem?

If you read a Wikipedia explanation of motivation, I promise you, you will be lost and set astray forever

Luckily I trust reviewed articles on wikipedia more than I trust you.

Oct 14, 2011
Some people don't like to work with others on problems. Personally, I prefer to do things on my own sometimes. There's nothing wrong with that. And it doesn't mean that you hate people. I'll bet there are some Chimpanzees also that DO like working with other [Chimpanzees]. After all, they didn't test people or chimps as a whole. Just because there were certain results shown in this experiment doesn't necessarily mean that it applies to everyone.

Oct 15, 2011
I don't think children cooperate, they rather compete. They want to show everyone else how good s/he is.

Oct 15, 2011
Chimps have one thing going for them in that they do not have the option of being meglomaniacal assholes prone to dellusional fantasies of wealth or power, unlike their superior, Homosapiens.

But they also conduct well coordinated raiding/hunting parties, this can only be done with cooperation. So,imnsho summing it up with one test involving pulling a rope is rather narrow-sighted.

Oct 16, 2011
Kaas - sounds like my daughter in law. She is subconciously competing with my wife for alpha position(they live with us). Don't think she even realizes it, but man is it creating havoc... And, of course, guess who's fault it is...
Personally, I'd prefer the bonobo methodology of problem resolution...

Oct 16, 2011
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