Malini Suchak and Frans B. M. de Waal
PNAS September 18, 2012 vol. 109 no. 38 15191-15196
The debate about the origins of human prosociality has focused on the presence or absence of similar tendencies in other species, and, recently, attention has turned to the underlying mechanisms. We investigated whether direct reciprocity could promote prosocial behavior in brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Twelve capuchins tested in pairs could choose between two tokens, with one being “prosocial” in that it rewarded both individuals (i.e., 1/1), and the other being “selfish” in that it rewarded the chooser only (i.e., 1/0). Each monkey’s choices with a familiar partner from their own group was compared with choices when paired with a partner from a different group. Capuchins were spontaneously prosocial, selecting the prosocial option at the same rate regardless of whether they were paired with an in-group or out-group partner. This indicates that interaction outside of the experimental setting played no role. When the paradigm was changed, such that both partners alternated making choices, prosocial preference significantly increased, leading to mutualistic payoffs. As no contingency could be detected between an individual’s choice and their partner’s previous choice, and choices occurred in rapid succession, reciprocity seemed of a relatively vague nature akin to mutualism. Having the partner receive a better reward than the chooser (i.e., 1/2) during the alternating condition increased the payoffs of mutual prosociality, and prosocial choice increased accordingly. The outcome of several controls made it hard to explain these results on the basis of reward distribution or learned preferences, and rather suggested that joint action promotes prosociality, resulting in so-called attitudinal reciprocity.