Animal Cognition

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 87–98 | Cite as

Novice chimpanzees cooperate successfully in the presence of experts, but may have limited understanding of the task

  • Malini Suchak
  • Julia Watzek
  • Luke F. Quarles
  • Frans B. M. de Waal
Original Paper


Despite many observations of cooperation in nature, laboratory studies often fail to find careful coordination between individuals who are solving a cooperative task. Further, individuals tested are often naïve to cooperative tasks and there has been little exploration of partnerships with mixed expertise. In the current study, we examined acquisition of a cooperative pulling task in a group with both expert (N = 4) and novice (N = 11) chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). We used five measures of competence and understanding: (1) success at the task, (2) latency to succeed, (3) efficiency, (4) uncoordinated pulling, and (5) pulling when a partner was present versus absent. We found that novices showed evidence of trial and error learning and developed competence over time, whereas the behavior of experts did not change throughout the course of the study. In addition to looking at patterns over time, we compared the performance of novices in this mixed-expertise group to an earlier study of novices in a group of all-novices. Novices in the mixed-expertise group pulled the same overall amount but for shorter periods of time, leading to higher pulling rates than individuals in the all-novice group. Taken together, these results suggest that learning in the presence of experts led to rapid and frequent success, although not necessarily careful coordination.


Cooperation Chimpanzee Associative learning Pan troglodytes Coordination 



We thank the Veterinary and Animal Care staffs at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center (YNPRC) for maintaining the health of our research subjects.


This study was supported by the Emory Dean’s Teaching Fellowship program; the Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude Project run by the Greater Good Science Center in partnership with University of California, Berkeley with funding from the John Templeton Foundation; the Canisius Earning Excellence Program; and National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research Infrastructure Programs base grant to the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, P51OD011132.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Malini Suchak, Julia Watzek, Luke F. Quarles, and Frans B.M. de Waal declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standard

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures were approved by Emory University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), protocol #YER-2000180-53114GA prior to commencement of the study. The YNPRC is furthermore fully accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC).

Supplementary material

10071_2017_1142_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (262 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 261 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Animal Behavior, Ecology and ConservationCanisius CollegeBuffaloUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.Living Links CenterYerkes National Primate Research CenterLawrencevilleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychology, Language Research CenterGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

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