The purpose of the present study was to push the boundaries of cooperation among captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). There has been doubt about the level of cooperation that chimpanzees are able to spontaneously achieve or understand. Would they, without any pre-training or restrictions in partner choice, be able to develop successful joint action? And would they be able to extend cooperation to more than two partners, as they do in nature? Chimpanzees were given a chance to cooperate with multiple partners of their own choosing. All members of the group (N = 11) had simultaneous access to an apparatus that required two (dyadic condition) or three (triadic condition) individuals to pull in a tray baited with food. Without any training, the chimpanzees spontaneously solved the task a total of 3,565 times in both dyadic and triadic combinations. Their success rate and efficiency increased over time, whereas the amount of pulling in the absence of a partner decreased, demonstrating that they had learned the task contingencies. They preferentially approached the apparatus when kin or nonkin of similar rank were present, showing a preference for socially tolerant partners. The forced partner combinations typical of cooperation experiments cannot reveal these abilities, which demonstrate that in the midst of a complex social environment, chimpanzees spontaneously initiate and maintain a high level of cooperative behavior.
Keywords: Chimpanzee; Cooperation; Pan troglodytes; Partner choice; Tolerance.