Teamwork Helps Kids Succeed Where Chimps Fail, Scientists Say

Oct 13, 2011 1:05pm

Humans are collaborators by nature. When compared to chimpanzees, our closest living relative, children are more likely to work together toward a common goal. That’s according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology.

“Differences between humans and other species might be rooted in apparently small motivational differences for how to behave towards others,” said Yvonne Rekers, co-author of the study.

“A preference to do stuff together instead of alone differentiates humans from one of our closely related primate cousins,” continued Rekers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “Once we know the underlying motivations of this tendency, we have learned something new about human nature that differentiates it from chimpanzee nature.”

Researchers hypothesized that a key difference in the evolution of human cooperation is the preference of working together versus acting alone to perform a certain task to obtain food. Following the results, researchers found that their hypothesis was correct: while children strongly preferred to collaborate, chimps did not show as much of a preference.

In the study, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany compared 24 3-year-old children and 12 semi-wild chimpanzees living in a Congo Republic wildlife sanctuary. Researchers presented a task in which it could be done alone, or with a partner, in order to get a food reward.

Researchers found that the children cooperated more than 78 percent of the time, compared with the chimps, which collaborated about 58 percent of the time.

“If this result proves to be reliable across ages and situations, the question is no longer how to get people to cooperate, but what keeps them from cooperating,” said Rekers.

Study authors hope to compare other primate species’ cooperation techniques, particularly bonobos, which, according to the study, most closely match human prosocial motivations.

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