Human Nature

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 129–152 | Cite as

A proximate perspective on reciprocal altruism

  • Sarah F. BrosnanEmail author
  • Frans B. M. de Waal


The study of reciprocal altruism, or the exchange of goods and services between individuals, requires attention to both evolutionary explanations and proximate mechanisms. Evolutionary explanations have been debated at length, but far less is known about the proximate mechanisms of reciprocity. Our own research has focused on the immediate causes and contingencies underlying services such as food sharing, grooming, and cooperation in brown capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees. Employing both observational and experimental techniques, we have come to distinguish three types of reciprocity. Symmetry-based reciprocity is cognitively the least complex form, based on symmetries inherent in dyadic relationships (e.g., mutual association, kinship). Attitudinal reciprocity, which is more cognitively complex, is based on the mirroring of social attitudes between partners and is exhibited by both capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees. Finally, calculated reciprocity, the most cognitively advanced form, is based on mental scorekeeping and is found only in humans and possibly chimpanzees.

Key words

Capuchin monkeys Chimpanzees Cooperation Food sharing Primate grooming Proximate mechanisms Reciprocal altruism 


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Copyright information

© Walter de Gruyter, Inc 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Living Links CenterEmory University, Yerkes Primate CenterAtlanta

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