Animal Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 407–414 | Cite as

Early social deprivation negatively affects social skill acquisition in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

  • Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen
  • Innocent Chitalu Mulenga
  • Diana Lisensky Chidester
Original Paper


In a highly social species like chimpanzees, the process by which individuals become attuned to their social environment may be of vital importance to their chances of survival. Typically, this socialization process, defined by all acquisition experiences and fine-tuning efforts of social interaction patterns during ontogeny, occurs in large part through parental investment. In this study, we investigated whether maternal presence enhances the socialization process in chimpanzees by comparing the social interactions of orphaned and mother-reared individuals at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia. As response variables, we selected social interactions during which an elaborate level of fine-tuning is assumed to be necessary for sustaining the interaction and preventing escalation: social play. Comparing orphaned (n = 8) to sex- and age-matched mother-reared juvenile chimpanzees (n = 9), we hypothesized that the orphaned juveniles would play less frequently than the mother-reared and would be less equipped for fine-tuning social play (which we assayed by rates of aggression) because of the lack of a safe and facilitating social environment provided by the mother. First, contrary to our hypothesis, results showed that the orphaned juveniles engaged in social play more frequently than the mother-reared juveniles, although for significantly shorter amounts of time. Second, in support of our hypothesis, results showed that social play of the orphaned juveniles more often resulted in aggression than social play of the mother-reared juveniles. In conjunction, these results may indicate that, just like in humans, chimpanzee mothers provide their offspring with adequate social skills that might be of pivotal importance for future challenges like successful group-living and securing competitive fitness advantages.


Socialization Chimpanzees Maternal deprivation Social competence Maternal care Social play 



The authors would like to thank the Zambia Wildlife Authority for facilitating our research in Zambia and the management of the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust for hosting this project within their sanctuary. Many thanks go out to the chimpanzee keepers & CWOT researchers (Patrick Chambatu, Felix Chinyama, Chrispin Kapango, Joseph Kasongo, Mumba Kawele, John Kayuya, Goodson Muletele, Thomson Mbilishi and Patrick Mwika) and to Katrina Seville for assisting in the data collection. We are grateful to Sheila Siddle (co-founder of CWOT) and to Katherine Cronin, Becky Koomen and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier draft. This work was supported by the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust.

Supplementary material

10071_2013_672_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (96 kb)
ESM_1 Ethogram used in the present study based on the ethogram from the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI, 2000). (PDF 95 kb)
10071_2013_672_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (80 kb)
ESM_2 Mean (± s.e.m) number of times (per hour) orphaned and mother-reared chimpanzees engaged in social play (SP) bouts of different lengths (means in bold indicate significant group differences using two-tailed Mann–Whitney tests with an alpha level set on 0.05; means in italics indicate trends, i.e. p value between 0.05-0.06). (PDF 80 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Innocent Chitalu Mulenga
    • 2
  • Diana Lisensky Chidester
    • 2
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for PsycholinguisticsNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage TrustChingolaZambia

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