Animal Cognition

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 147–151 | Cite as

The effects of being watched on resource acquisition in chimpanzees and human children

  • Jan M. EngelmannEmail author
  • Esther Herrmann
  • Michael Tomasello
Original Paper


Animals react in many different ways to being watched by others. In the context of cooperation, many theories emphasize reputational effects: Individuals should cooperate more if other potential cooperators are watching. In the context of competition, individuals might want to show off their strength and prowess if other potential competitors are watching. In the current study, we observed chimpanzees and human children in three experimental conditions involving resource acquisition: Participants were either in the presence of a passive observer (observed condition), an active observer who engaged in the same task as the participant (competition condition), or in the presence of but not directly observed by a conspecific (mere presence condition). While both species worked to acquire more resources in the competition condition, children but not chimpanzees also worked to acquire more resources in the observer condition (compared to the mere presence condition). These results suggest evolutionary continuity with regard to competition-based observer effects, but an additional observer effect in young children, potentially arising from an evolutionary-based concern for cooperative reputation.


Competition Cooperation Reputation Social evaluation Observer Audience 



We thank Martin Mulama, Richard Vigne, George Paul, the board members and all the staff of Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya. In addition, we thank Jana Jurkat and Katharina Haberl for their help in testing the children. Finally, thanks go to Marike Schreiber, Raik Pieszek and Colleen Stephens.


This research was supported by the Max Planck Society.

Author contribution

J.M.E., E.H., M.T. designed the study; J.M.E. & E.H. conducted the study; J.M.E., E.H., M.T. analyzed the data; J.M.E., E.H., M.T. wrote the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan M. Engelmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • Esther Herrmann
    • 1
  • Michael Tomasello
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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