Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) do not develop contingent reciprocity in an experimental task

Sarah Frances Brosnan, Joan B. Silk, Joseph Henrich, Mary Catherine Mareno, Susan P. Lambeth, Steven J. Schapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Chimpanzees provide help to unrelated individuals in a broad range of situations. The pattern of helping within pairs suggests that contingent reciprocity may have been an important mechanism in the evolution of altruism in chimpanzees. However, correlational analyses of the cumulative pattern of interactions over time do not demonstrate that helping is contingent upon previous acts of altruism, as required by the theory of reciprocal altruism. Experimental studies provide a controlled approach to examine the importance of contingency in helping interactions. In this study, we evaluated whether chimpanzees would be more likely to provide food to a social partner from their home group if their partner had previously provided food for them. The chimpanzees manipulated a barpull apparatus in which actors could deliver rewards either to themselves and their partners or only to themselves. Our findings indicate that the chimpanzees' responses were not consistently influenced by the behavior of their partners in previous rounds. Only one of the 11 dyads that we tested demonstrated positive reciprocity. We conclude that contingent reciprocity does not spontaneously arise in experimental settings, despite the fact that patterns of behavior in the field indicate that individuals cooperate preferentially with reciprocating partners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-597
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Chimpanzee
  • Other-regarding behavior
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Reciprocity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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