Animal Cognition

, Volume 12, Supplement 1, pp 27–36 | Cite as

Selfish strategies develop in social problem situations in chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) mother–infant pairs

  • Shinya YamamotoEmail author
  • Masayuki Tanaka
Original Paper


Humans employ various strategies, including selfish and altruistic strategies, depending on the situation. In order to examine whether non-human animals show such flexibility or not, we analyzed chimpanzees’ selfish and cooperative behavior in two types of social problem situations. In this study, we tested chimpanzee mother–infant pairs in two adjacent booths, each equipped with a vending machine. When a token was inserted into a vending machine, the vending machine delivered food rewards to the adjacent booth. In experiment 1, a partition between the two booths was open. In experiment 2, the partition was closed and a mother and her infant were placed in separate booths, so that reciprocal cooperation was essential for them to receive rewards. The participants did not cooperate reciprocally in either experiment. In experiment 1, the chimpanzees developed selfish tactics to get rewards and changed their tactics flexibly according to the partner’s behaviors. In experiment 2, in which they could not receive rewards without cooperation, they stopped altogether inserting tokens. In both cases, the infants stopped cooperating first. These findings support the idea that chimpanzees are primarily competitive rather than cooperative. Chimpanzees’ high social intelligence might be demonstrated in the flexibility of their selfish tactics, but not in the form of reciprocal cooperation at least when food is involved. We suggest that the failure to establish reciprocal cooperation was due to the social relationship between the mother and her infant, which was characterized by infant’s privilege and mother’s tolerance.


Chimpanzee Mother–infant relationship Reciprocal cooperation Self-regard Social problem situation 



The present study was financially supported by a grant (#16002001 and # 20002001 to T. Matsuzawa) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology (MEXT), Japan, by the Global COE Program of MEXT (A06 and D07 to Kyoto University), and by a grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for Young Scientists (#18-3451 to S. Yamamoto). We thank Prof. T. Matsuzawa, Dr. M. Tomonaga, Dr. T. Humle, and other colleagues in the Section of Language and Intelligence, the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University (KUPRI) for their support and helpful comments on the present study. We also thank the staff members of the Center for Human Evolution Modeling Research in KUPRI, for veterinary and daily care of the chimpanzees.

Supplementary material

S1 Token-passing between a mother (Ai, left)-infant (Ayumu, right) pair in session 22 of experiment 1. The infant was supplied with a token, and gave it to his mother. The mother gave it back to her infant. Then the infant tried to give it to his mother again whilst vocalizing. Finally the mother received it and inserted it, which resulted in the delivery of a reward to the infant. (WMV 507 kb)

S2 Parasitic behavior by the mother (Pan). The infant Pal inserted a token into a vending machine in front of her mother Pan, who was lying down on the floor, and a reward was delivered to the next booth (right side). Then the mother moved quickly to the next booth ahead of her infant, and got the reward. (WMV 1459 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Primate Research InstituteKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  2. 2.Graduate School of Arts and ScienceThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan

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