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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Chimps turn a blind eye to third-party theft

Unlike humans, chimpanzees do not appear to punish theft that does not directly affect them, according to a study. Because chimpanzees have been shown to intervene in fights between group members, Keith Jensen and colleagues explored the apes' propensity to punish violators of social norms. The authors provided 13 captive chimpanzees with an opportunity to punish individuals that stole food from others; the punishment involved collapsing a platform and knocking the food away from the thieves. The authors report that dominant chimpanzees were more likely than subordinate ones to punish thieves when their own food was stolen. But, the authors add, the dominant chimpanzees did not punish thieves that stole others' food, regardless of their relatedness to the victims. Hence, the authors suggest, humans' closest living evolutionary relatives are unlikely to engage in third-party punishment, a trait that enables cooperation in human societies. According to the authors, third-party punishment as an enforcement measure likely evolved in the human lineage, well after the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.

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Article #12-03179: "No third-party punishment in chimpanzees," by Katrin Riedl, Keith Jensen, Josep Call, and Michael Tomasello

MEDIA CONTACT: Keith Jensen, Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, GERMANY; tel: +49-341-3550-416; cell: +44 74 0118 6179; e-mail: jensen@eva.mpg.de



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