International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 32, Issue 6, pp 1296–1310 | Cite as

Coordination of Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in a Stag Hunt Game

  • Anke F. Bullinger
  • Emily Wyman
  • Alicia P. Melis
  • Michael Tomasello


Group-living animals frequently face situations in which they must coordinate individual and sometimes conflicting goals. We assessed chimpanzees’ ability to coordinate in a Stag Hunt game. Dyads were confronted with a situation in which each individual was already foraging on a low-value food (hare) when a high-value food (stag) appeared that required collaboration for retrieval, with a solo attempt to get the stag resulting in a loss of both options. In one condition visibility between partners was open whereas in the other it was blocked by a barrier. Regardless of condition, dyads almost always (91%) coordinated to choose the higher valued collaborative option. Intentional communication or monitoring of the partner’s behavior before decision making—characteristic of much human coordination—were limited. Instead, all dyads adopted a leader–follower strategy in which one partner took the risk of going first, presumably predicting that this would induce the other to join in (sometimes communicating if she was slow to do so). These results show that humans’ closest primate relatives do not use complex communication to coordinate but most often use a less cognitively complex strategy that achieves the same end.


Chimpanzees Collaboration Communication Coordination Stag hunt 



We thank Dr. Joanna Setchell and the International Journal of Primatology (IJP) for the generous fund from Springer–IJP that made this special issue possible. We thank Josefine Kalbitz and Hanna Petschauer from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology for assistance in study preparation and Raik Pieszek for technical support, as well as Roger Mundry for statistical advice. In particular, we appreciate the hard work of the Wolfgang-Köhler-Primate-Research-Center animal caretakers, mainly Daniel Geissler and Stefan Leideritz. We also thank Lisa Klepfer, Katja Karg, Franziska Schleger, Nadja Miosga, Maria Baumeister, Nele Zickert, Carolin Kade, Mandy Rogalla, Christian Nawroth, Sina Mackay, Caroline Mayer, Christina Meier, Franka Köpp and Julia Löpelt for help with our tests, along with Claudia Menzel for the reliability coding. We thank Julia Greenberg, Anna-Claire Schneider, and Katharina Hamann for fruitful discussions throughout the study and the reviewers and editors for the very helpful comments on the manuscript. The research of A. F. Bullinger is supported by a grant from the German National Academic Foundation.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anke F. Bullinger
    • 1
  • Emily Wyman
    • 1
  • Alicia P. Melis
    • 1
  • Michael Tomasello
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Developmental and Comparative PsychologyMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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