Novice chimpanzees cooperate successfully in the presence of experts, but may have limited understanding of the task

Abstract

Despite many observations of cooperation in nature, laboratory studies often fail to find careful coordination between individuals who are solving a cooperative task. Further, individuals tested are often naïve to cooperative tasks and there has been little exploration of partnerships with mixed expertise. In the current study, we examined acquisition of a cooperative pulling task in a group with both expert (N = 4) and novice (N = 11) chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). We used five measures of competence and understanding: (1) success at the task, (2) latency to succeed, (3) efficiency, (4) uncoordinated pulling, and (5) pulling when a partner was present versus absent. We found that novices showed evidence of trial-and-error learning and developed competence over time, whereas the behavior of experts did not change throughout the course of the study. In addition to looking at patterns over time, we compared the performance of novices in this mixed-expertise group to an earlier study of novices in a group of all-novices. Novices in the mixed-expertise group pulled the same overall amount but for shorter periods of time, leading to higher pulling rates than individuals in the all-novice group. Taken together, these results suggest that learning in the presence of experts led to rapid and frequent success, although not necessarily careful coordination.

Suchak M, Watzek J, Quarles LF, de Waal FBM (2018) Novice chimpanzees cooperate successfully in the presence of experts, but may have limited understanding of the task. Anim Cog 21:87–98. doi:10.1007/s10071-017-1142-2

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