Characterization of Pan social systems reveals in-group/out-group distinction and out-group tolerance in bonobos

Liran Samuni, Kevin E. Langergraber, Martin H. Surbeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Human between-group interactions are highly variable, ranging from violent to tolerant and affiliative. Tolerance between groups is linked to our unique capacity for large-scale cooperation and cumulative culture, but its evolutionary origins are understudied. In chimpanzees, one of our closest living relatives, predominantly hostile between-group interactions impede cooperation and information flow across groups. In contrast, in our other closest living relative, the bonobo, tolerant between-group associations are observed. However, as these associations can be frequent and prolonged and involve social interactions that mirror those within groups, it is unclear whether these bonobos really do belong to separate groups. Alternatively, the bonobo grouping patterns may be homologous to observations from the large Ngogo chimpanzee community, where individuals form within-group neighborhoods despite sharing the same membership in the larger group. To characterize bonobo grouping patterns, we compare the social structure of the Kokolopori bonobos with the chimpanzee group of Ngogo. Using cluster analysis, we find temporally stable clusters only in bonobos. Despite the large spatial overlap and frequent interactions between the bonobo clusters, we identified significant association preference within but not between clusters and a unique space use of each cluster. Although bonobo associations are flexible (i.e., fission-fusion dynamics), cluster membership predicted the bonobo fission compositions and the spatial cohesion of individuals during encounters. These findings suggest the presence of a social system that combines clear in-group/out-group distinction and out-group tolerance in bonobos, offering a unique referential model for the evolution of tolerant between-group interactions in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2201122119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jun 28 2022


  • bonobo
  • chimpanzee
  • grouping patterns
  • intergroup relations
  • social structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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