One for You, One for Me: Humans' Unique Turn-Taking Skills

Psychol Sci. 2016 Jul;27(7):987-96. doi: 10.1177/0956797616644070. Epub 2016 May 25.


Long-term collaborative relationships require that any jointly produced resources be shared in mutually satisfactory ways. Prototypically, this sharing involves partners dividing up simultaneously available resources, but sometimes the collaboration makes a resource available to only one individual, and any sharing of resources must take place across repeated instances over time. Here, we show that beginning at 5 years of age, human children stabilize cooperation in such cases by taking turns across instances of obtaining a resource. In contrast, chimpanzees do not take turns in this way, and so their collaboration tends to disintegrate over time. Alternating turns in obtaining a collaboratively produced resource does not necessarily require a prosocial concern for the other, but rather requires only a strategic judgment that partners need incentives to continue collaborating. These results suggest that human beings are adapted for thinking strategically in ways that sustain long-term cooperative relationships and that are absent in their nearest primate relatives.

Keywords: Pan troglodytes; children; chimpanzees; collaboration; problem solving; reciprocity; sharing; turn taking.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pan troglodytes / psychology*
  • Species Specificity