SNHS Spotlight: Chimpanzees’ Prosocial Behavior in Groups

As one of humanity’s closest relatives, chimpanzees have been under constant watch by scientists to study their prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior is “any behavior voluntarily performed by one individual to benefit another.” Scientists have been in a debate on whether chimpanzees are prosocial or not. One of the most debated topics is if chimpanzees are prosocial
because they pass tools and aid researchers. Chimpanzees are researched prosocially to have a better understanding of humanity’s selflessness.

In one study done by the University of Kyoto, masters student, James Brooks, experimented by playing chimpanzees the sound of chimps outside a chimpanzee group. These sounds produced stress symptoms that did not occur when crow calls were being played. Even with their anxiety levels, the apes moved physically closer to one another and fought less. When unknown chimpanzee sounds were played, the chimpanzees displayed playful behavior at feeding time and groomed each other. This was seen as a sign to show unity in their family if the unknown chimpanzees wanted to fight.

Another way chimpanzees have displayed prosocial behavior is through the usage of tools. When chimpanzees transferred tools to each other, this behavior has been seen as a form of teaching, and it has been found that chimpanzees that gather termites using a multi-step process and more complex tools are likely to share them with beginners. This was observed in a study by The Leakey Foundation and led by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Miami, and Franklin and Marshall College, who have been able to identify the prosocial behavior of these actions.

While most experiments conducted have been in controlled environments, a study has been conducted in the wild, which compared the transfer of tools between chimpanzee populations in Goualougo Triangle, Republic of Congo, and Gombe, Tanzania. Both populations used similar fishing-probe tools but the Goualougo chimpanzees had different types of tools, specific for plant species and fishing probes. The researchers found that there was a difference in rate, probability, and types of tools between the two populations.

The research is important because understanding chimpanzee’s prosocial behavior through tools and sounds could be a way to see the evolutionary origins of cultural abilities in humans, especially because chimpanzees are one of humanity’s closest relatives. To continue to research and observe this behavior, humanity has to conserve chimpanzees and their habitats, as they are an endangered species.

Works Cited:

“Chimpanzees More Likely to Share Tools, Teach Skills When Task Is Complex.” The Leakey

Foundation, 6 Jan. 2020,

Leeuwen, Edwin. “Chimpanzees Behave Prosocially in a Group-Specific Manner.” Science

Advances, 1 Feb. 2021,

Luntz, Stephen. “Chimpanzees Help Without Reward And Unite Against Common Foes.”

By: Casey Forcellati’21, SNHS Member

Categories: SNHS