Trust Is Equally Important for Chimpanzees

"two chimpanzees on a rock"

Chimpanzees that were labeled as “friends” trusted their partner with the good food in the experiment.

Jan Engelmann, the main researcher in the study on the friendship between chimpanzees says trust is equally important for chimpanzees as it is for humans. It seems that the primates have complicated social relationships, and trust is elemental in the way in which they interact with each other.

The German researcher from the Max Plank Evolutionary Anthropology Institute from Germany spent time in Kenya where he observed the interactions between the chimpanzees and he reached the conclusion that these specific primates have a much more complicated and well developed social interaction scheme than we originally thought.

The fact that chimpanzees form lifelong friendships comes as a bit of a surprise since they were considered one of the most violent species of primates. This must be due to the fact that the normal behavior, such as sharing a banana, or an apple, used to be overlooked and researchers only focused on their teeth revealing arguments.

In order to determine whether or not a chimpanzee is capable of trusting a fellow primate, the team of researchers that led a study adapted a game that is usually played by children in their early years. After making the animals play it a few times, and after they were sure they understood the basic principle of it, the researchers then paired the chimps according to the observations they already made by studying them interact without interference.

The game was simple. The chimpanzees were coupled in pairs of two. One of the primates would get two ropes. By pulling one rope, the other chimp would get some food that, while not dangerous, was not exactly to their like. The other released sweet treats like apples or bananas. The catch in the game is the ability of the receiver to share the food with the giver.

After being paired with certain fellow chimps for a couple of times, some of the primates knew which is capable of sharing and which not. This made them take their decisions based on trust. If a chimp knew that his partner will share the good food, he would pull the rope that released it, but if he didn’t trust the other chimpanzee’s character, he would pull the rope that gave the bad food.

Also, chimps that were previously identified as being “friends” based on the fact that they spent more time together, groomed themselves, didn’t show any signs of violence towards each other, seemed to pull the “trust” rope with no second thought.

While the experiment was conducted on only 15 animals, which were also in captivity, the results cannot be considered definitive. It may be that we have more in common with our hairy cousins then we know since trust is equally important for chimpanzees as it is for us humans.

Image source: