Animal Cognition

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 611–623 | Cite as

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

  • Francys SubiaulEmail author
  • Jennifer Vonk
  • Sanae Okamoto-Barth
  • Jochen Barth
Original Paper


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.


Reputation Social learning Eavesdropping Third-party interactions Chimpanzees 



We would like to thank S. F. Brosnan, F. deWaal, E. Fehr, and D. J. Povinelli, for their comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. We would also like to thank A. Rideaux, L. Loston, T. LaVergne and J. Reaux as well as all the volunteers that served as donors for their assistance throughout this project. This research was supported in part by a Centennial Fellowship from the James S. McDonnell Foundation to DJP and a Research Award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation to H.S. Terrace, J. Metcalfe and F. Subiaul. All studies were reviewed and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of the University of Louisiana, Lafayette.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francys Subiaul
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jennifer Vonk
    • 2
    • 3
  • Sanae Okamoto-Barth
    • 2
    • 4
  • Jochen Barth
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Speech and Hearing Science, Mind, Brain and Evolution ClusterThe George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.University of Louisiana, Cognitive Evolution GroupNew IberiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Southern Mississippi Gulf CoastLong BeachUSA
  4. 4.Department of Cognitive NeuroscienceMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtNetherlands

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