(p. C2) Basic fairness is probably written into our genetic code. Human societies depend on the expectation of reciprocity: We assume that a neighbor will collect our mail if we’ve mowed their lawn, or that drivers will take turns braking at stop signs.
Fundamental as this trait might seem, however, its evolutionary origins are hazy. Previous research has shown that chimpanzees–one of our closest relatives–are less motivated by fairness than by what they immediately stand to gain from a transaction.
A new study shows that chimps can go beyond such reflexive selfishness and cooperate, even if it costs them something. But they don’t just give up what’s theirs, even to their kin. They are particular about when they will share some of their food, according to research led by University of Vienna biologist Martin Schmelz and just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Like many of us, the team found, chimps keep score: They’re most likely to allot treats to a partner if that chimp helped them first.
For the full commentary, see:
SUSAN PINKER. “MIND AND MATTER: What Chimps Understand About Reciprocity.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 22, 2017): C2.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 21, 2017.)
The full academic article that is summarized above, is:
Schmelz, Martin, Sebastian Grueneisen, Alihan Kabalak, Jürgen Jost, and Michael Tomasello. “Chimpanzees Return Favors at a Personal Cost.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 28 (July 11, 2017): 7462-67.