, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 611-623
Date: 21 Mar 2008

Do chimpanzees learn reputation by observation? Evidence from direct and indirect experience with generous and selfish strangers

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Can chimpanzees learn the reputation of strangers indirectly by observation? Or are such stable behavioral attributions made exclusively by first-person interactions? To address this question, we let seven chimpanzees observe unfamiliar humans either consistently give (generous donor) or refuse to give (selfish donor) food to a familiar human recipient (Experiments 1 and 2) and a conspecific (Experiment 3). While chimpanzees did not initially prefer to beg for food from the generous donor (Experiment 1), after continued opportunities to observe the same behavioral exchanges, four chimpanzees developed a preference for gesturing to the generous donor (Experiment 2), and transferred this preference to novel unfamiliar donor pairs, significantly preferring to beg from the novel generous donors on the first opportunity to do so. In Experiment 3, four chimpanzees observed novel selfish and generous acts directed toward other chimpanzees by human experimenters. During the first half of testing, three chimpanzees exhibited a preference for the novel generous donor on the first trial. These results demonstrate that chimpanzees can infer the reputation of strangers by eavesdropping on third-party interactions.