Chimpanzees share food for many reasons: The role of kinship, reciprocity, social bonds and harassment on food transfers

Joan Silk, Sarah F. Brosnan, Joseph Henrich, Susan P. Lambeth, Steven Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


There is currently great interest in the phylogenetic origins of altruistic behaviour within the primate order. Considerable attention has been focused on chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, because they are our closest living relatives and participate in a wide range of collective activities, including hunting and food sharing. Food sharing is of particular importance because it plays a critical role in the human foraging niche, but food sharing among adults is rare in nonhuman primates. Some research suggests that chimpanzees selectively share meat with reciprocating partners and allies, while other work indicates that chimpanzees primarily share to reduce harassment from other group members (tolerated theft). We examined the effects of kinship, relationship quality, reciprocity and the intensity of solicitations on the pattern of food transfers in six captive groups of chimpanzees. We observed events that occurred after the chimpanzees were provisioned with large frozen juice disks. These disks share some properties with prey carcasses: they are a valued, but limited, resource; they take a considerable period of time to consume; they can be monopolized by one individual, but bits can be broken off and transferred to others. Our analyses suggest that food transfers serve multiple functions for chimpanzees. Individuals may use food transfers to enhance the welfare of closely related group members, strengthen social relationships with favoured partners and reduce the costs of persistent solicitations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)941-947
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Altruism
  • Chimpanzee
  • Food sharing
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Prosociality
  • Reciprocity
  • Tolerated theft

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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