What's in it for me? Self-regard precludes altruism and spite in chimpanzees

Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Apr 22;273(1589):1013-21. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3417.


Sensitivity to fairness may influence whether individuals choose to engage in acts that are mutually beneficial, selfish, altruistic, or spiteful. In a series of three experiments, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) could pull a rope to access out-of-reach food while concomitantly pulling another piece of food further away. In the first study, they could make a choice that solely benefited themselves (selfishness), or both themselves and another chimpanzee (mutualism). In the next two experiments, they could choose between providing food solely for another chimpanzee (altruism), or for neither while preventing the other chimpanzee from receiving a benefit (spite). The main result across all studies was that chimpanzees made their choices based solely on personal gain, with no regard for the outcomes of a conspecific. These results raise questions about the origins of human cooperative behaviour.

MeSH terms

  • Altruism*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Motivation
  • Pan troglodytes / genetics
  • Pan troglodytes / physiology*