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Study: Chimps Prefer Cooperation than Competition, Proving Trait is NOT Exclusive to Humans

Aug 23, 2016 03:59 AM EDT
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A new study revealed that when given the choice between cooperation and competition, chimpanzees opted for the former five times more frequently.
(Photo : Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Make love, not war. No, it's not just humans who have learned to abide by this rule, but chimpanzees as well. A new study revealed that when given the choice between cooperation and competition, chimpanzees opted for the former five times more frequently.

According to a report from Phys Org, the study by Yerkes National Primate Research Center and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences challenged the belief that humans alone have the ability to cooperate.

These findings on chimpanzees, who used to be considered overly aggressive and competitive, also suggests that cooperation might be shared among primates.

"Previous statements in the literature describe human cooperation as a 'huge anomaly' and chimpanzees as preferring competition over collaboration," Malini Suchak, PhD, lead author of the study, said. "Studies have also suggested researchers have to 'engineer cooperation' during experiments rather than acknowledging chimpanzees are naturally cooperative."

In the study, researchers designed a cooperative task very similar to chimpanzee's natural conditions. The researchers tested the apes thousands of times to pull cooperatively at an apparatus filled with rewards. Half of the test sessions needed two chimpanzees to succeed pulling and the other half needed three.

It was a set-up that could easily be a display of aggression and competition, but the chimpanzees were overwhelmingly cooperative, performing cooperative acts 3,565 times over a 94 hour-long session. The chimpanzees have also shown to employ different strategies to combat aggression and freeloading among themselves.

"And it turns out, they are really quite good at preventing competition and favoring cooperation," Suchak continued. "In fact, given the ratio of conflict to cooperation is quite similar in humans and chimpanzees, our study shows striking similarities across species and gives another insight into human evolution."

Frans de Waal, PhD, director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Research Center, a C. H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory University and another one of the study authors, chimed in about the misconception that cooperation is only a human trait.

"It has become a popular claim in the literature that human cooperation is unique," he explained. "This is especially curious because the best ideas we have about the evolution of cooperation come straight from animal studies. The natural world is full of cooperation, from ants to killer whales. Our study is the first to show that our closest relatives know very well how to discourage competition and freeloading. Cooperation wins!"

Another win for the chimpanzee community: National Institutes of Health and their director Francis Collins announced plans for the retirement of all remaining government-owned and -supported chimpanzees to sanctuaries, according to Washington Post.

A total of 19 chimpanzees were already moved from Texas Biomedical Research Institute to the national chimpanzee sanctuary dubbed Chimp Haven.

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