Exchanges form the basis of human economies. Animals too can engage in reciprocal interactions but they do not barter goods like humans, which raises the question of the abilities necessary for trading to occur. Previous studies have shown that non-human primates can exchange food with human partners. Here, we tested the ability of brown capuchin monkeys and Tonkean macaques to reciprocate in a task requiring two conspecifics to exchange tokens in order to obtain rewards from an experimenter. We recorded 56 transfers between subjects in capuchin monkeys and 10 in Tonkean macaques. All transfers were passive in both species. Capuchins preferentially picked up tokens valuable for them in the partner’s compartment. They tended to manipulate the partner-valued tokens more often than the no-value ones, leading to more opportunities for these tokens to end up within reach of the partner. Despite optimal conditions where values of goods were defined and known by partners, however, none of the pairs tested engaged in short-term reciprocal interactions. These results indicate that calculated reciprocity was difficult if not impossible in the animals tested.
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We are grateful to E. Suarez and J. Devillechabrolle for valuable assistance with the monkeys, and reviewers for fruitful comments. The research was supported by a grant from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-08-BLAN-0042-01).
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Pelé, M., Thierry, B., Call, J. et al. Monkeys fail to reciprocate in an exchange task. Anim Cogn 13, 745–751 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-010-0325-x