Orangutans (Pongo spp.) do not spontaneously share benefits with familiar conspecifics in a choice paradigm
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- Kim, Y., Martinez, L., Choe, J.C. et al. Primates (2015) 56: 193. doi:10.1007/s10329-015-0460-8
Humans are thought to be unique in their ability to help others voluntarily even though it may sometimes incur substantial costs. However, there are a growing number of studies showing that prosocial behaviors can be observed, not only in humans, but also among nonhuman primates that live in complex social groups. Prosociality has often been described as a major factor that facilitates group living. Nonetheless, it has seldom been explored whether solitary living primates, such as orangutans, share this propensity. In the present study, we tested four captive orangutans (Pongo abelii × pigmaeus, Pongo pigmaeus) in a simple food-delivering task. They had a choice, incurring the same cost, between getting a food reward for themselves and providing an additional food reward to a conspecific recipient passively sitting in an adjacent booth. Two orangutans played the actor’s role, and two orangutans participated as recipients. The results showed that the actors did not choose to deliver food to the recipients more often than expected by chance (51.3 % on average). The control condition demonstrated that this tendency was independent of the actor’s understanding of the task. These findings suggest that orangutans do not spontaneously share benefits with other conspecifics, even when the prosocial choice does not disadvantage them. This study gives the first experimental evidence that socially housed captive orangutans do not behave prosocially in a choice paradigm experiment. Further studies using a different experimental paradigm should be conducted to examine whether this tendency is consistent with previous findings hypothesizing that the enhanced prosocial propensity shown in humans and other group living primates is an evolutionary outcome of living in complex social environments.