A proximate perspective on reciprocal altruism

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Sarah F. Brosnan.

Additional information

Sarah F. Brosnan is a graduate student in the Population Biology, Ecology, and Evolution Program at Emory University. Her interests include proximate mechanisms of cooperation and reciprocity in primates, and social learning in primates and other species.

Frans B. M. de Waal is the C. H. Candler Professor of Psychology and the director of the Living Links Center at Emory University. His interests include social behavior and cognition of monkeys and apes, and their relevance for questions on the evolution of human politics, economy, morality, and culture.

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Brosnan, S.F., de Waal, F.B.M. A proximate perspective on reciprocal altruism. Hum Nat 13, 129–152 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-002-1017-2

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Key words

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