Chimpanzees and children avoid mutual defection in a social dilemma



Sánchez-Amaro A, Duguid S, Call J & Tomasello M (2019) Chimpanzees and children avoid mutual defection in a social dilemma. Evolution and Human Behavior, 40 (1), pp. 46-54.

Cooperation often comes with the temptation to defect and benefit at the cost of others. This tension between cooperation and defection is best captured in social dilemmas like the Prisoner's Dilemma. Adult humans have specific strategies to maintain cooperation during Prisoner's Dilemma interactions. Yet, little is known about the ontogenetic and phylogenetic origins of human decision-making strategies in conflict scenarios. To shed light on this question, we compared the strategies used by chimpanzees and 5-year old children to overcome a social dilemma. In our task, waiting for the partner to act first produced the best results for the subject. Alternatively, they could mutually cooperate and divide the rewards. Our findings indicate that the two species differed substantially in their strategies to solve the task. Chimpanzees became more strategic across the study period by waiting longer to act in the social dilemma. Children developed a more efficient strategy of taking turns to reciprocate their rewards. Moreover, children used specific types of communication to coordinate with their partners. These results suggest that while both species behaved strategically to overcome a conflict situation, only children engaged in active cooperation to solve a social dilemma.

Social dilemma; Prisoner's Dilemma; Cooperation; Coordination; Chimpanzees; Children

Evolution and Human Behavior: Volume 40, Issue 1

FundersEuropean Commission (Horizon 2020)
Publication date31/01/2019
Publication date online31/08/2018
Date accepted by journal20/07/2018

People (1)


Dr Alejandro Sanchez Amaro

Dr Alejandro Sanchez Amaro

Lecturer in Psychology, Psychology