Triadic social interactions operate across time: a field experiment with wild chimpanzees

Proc Biol Sci. 2014 Feb 5;281(1779):20133155. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.3155. Print 2014 Mar 22.


Social animals cooperate with bonding partners to outcompete others. Predicting a competitor's supporter is likely to be beneficial, regardless of whether the supporting relationship is stable or transient, or whether the support happens immediately or later. Although humans make such predictions frequently, it is unclear to what extent animals have the cognitive abilities to recognize others' transient bond partners and to predict others' coalitions that extend beyond the immediate present. We conducted playback experiments with wild chimpanzees to test this. About 2 h after fighting, subjects heard recordings of aggressive barks of a bystander, who was or was not a bond partner of the former opponent. Subjects looked longer and moved away more often from barks of the former opponents' bond partners than non-bond partners. In an additional experiment, subjects moved away more from barks than socially benign calls of the same bond partner. These effects were present despite differences in genetic relatedness and considerable time delays between the two events. Chimpanzees, it appears, integrate memories of social interactions from different sources to make inferences about current interactions. This ability is crucial for connecting triadic social interactions across time, a requirement for predicting aggressive support even after a time delay.

Keywords: chimpanzee; coalitions; cognition; playback experiment; social memory; third-party knowledge.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Aggression
  • Animals
  • Cognition
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Female
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Pan troglodytes / genetics
  • Pan troglodytes / physiology
  • Pan troglodytes / psychology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Time Factors
  • Vocalization, Animal