Bonobos Might Not Be So Laid-Back after All

Jan 5, 2018

By Jason G. Goldman

Given a choice, most humans would rather spend their time with nice people and avoid befriending jerks. Developmental psychologists have even found that by three months of age, human infants can tell the difference between the two—and seem to prefer those who help to those who hinder. According to a study published Thursday in Current Biologythe opposite seems to be true for bonobos.

“Of our two closest relatives, chimps and bonobos, [bonobos] are the ones known to show less extreme aggression. They’re socially tolerant in food settings, and they share food and cooperate in ways chimpanzees might not,” says Duke University evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Krupenye (now at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland), who led the study. “So we thought if either of them are likely to share with humans this motivation to prefer helpers, it may be bonobos.”

Together with Duke University anthropologist Brian Hare, Krupenye tested a group of 43 bonobos living in a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The researchers used a range of experiments designed to see whether bonobos, like human infants, can distinguish individuals according to their social behaviors—and whether they prefer the helpers, like we do.

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