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Self-interest precludes prosocial juice provisioning in a free choice group experiment in bonobos


Previous studies on prosociality in bonobos have reported contrasting results, which might partly be explained by differences in experimental contexts. In this study, we implement a free choice group experiment in which bonobos can provide fruit juice to their group members at a low cost for themselves. Four out of five bonobos passed a training phase and understood the setup and provisioned fruit juice in a total of 17 dyads. We show that even in this egalitarian group with a shallow hierarchy, the majority of pushing was done by the alpha female, who monopolized the setup and provided most juice to two adult females, her closest social partners. Nonetheless, the bonobos in this study pushed less frequently than the chimpanzees in the original juice-paradigm study, suggesting that bonobos might be less likely than chimpanzees to provide benefits to group members. Moreover, in half of the pushing acts, subjects obtained juice for themselves, suggesting that juice provisioning was partly driven by self-regarding behavior. Our study indicates that a more nuanced view on the prosocial food provisioning nature of bonobos is warranted but based on this case study, we suggest that the observed sex differences in providing food to friends corresponds with the socio-ecological sex difference in cooperative interactions in wild and zoo-housed bonobos.

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The datasets analyzed during this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We are grateful to the staff of the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (RZSA) for their support in this study and to Manon Schweinfurth and Josep Call for lending us the apparatus for which the construction was financed by a European Research Council-Synergy Grant (no. 609819) to JC. Special thanks go to Marjolein Osieck, Emma Willemen, and the bonobo keepers of ZOO Planckendael (Mechelen, Belgium). No animals were sacrificed or sedated for the purpose of this study. The research adhered to the legal requirements of the country in which the research was conducted (Belgium) and was approved by the Scientific Advisory Board of the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp and the University of Antwerp (Belgium) and endorsed by the European Breeding Program for bonobos. All research complied with the ASAB guidelines (ASAB 2020).


The Centre for Research and Conservation (CRC) is funded by the Flemish government. DWL (ref. 11G3220N) and EJCvL (ref. 12W5318N) were funded by a Fellowship awarded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO).

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JV, EJCvL, and JMGS developed the study. Formal statistical analyses and investigation were done by JV and DWL. JV wrote the manuscript with editing from all co-authors involved.

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Correspondence to Jonas Verspeek.

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Verspeek, J., van Leeuwen, E.J.C., Laméris, D.W. et al. Self-interest precludes prosocial juice provisioning in a free choice group experiment in bonobos. Primates (2022).

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  • Friends
  • Relationship quality
  • Selfish
  • Food provisioning
  • Partner choice