No third-party punishment in chimpanzees

Katrin Riedl, Keith Jensen, Josep Call, Michael Tomasello

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Punishment can help maintain cooperation by deterring free-riding and cheating. Of particular importance in large-scale human societies is third-party punishment in which individuals punish a transgressor or norm violator even when they themselves are not affected. Nonhuman primates and other animals aggress against conspecifics with some regularity, but it is unclear whether this is ever aimed at punishing others for noncooperation, and whether third-party punishment occurs at all. Here we report an experimental study in which one of humans' closest living relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), could punish an individual who stole food. Dominants retaliated when their own food was stolen, but they did not punish when the food of third-parties was stolen, even when the victim was related to them. Third-party punishment as a means of enforcing cooperation, as humans do, might therefore be a derived trait in the human lineage.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)14824-14829
    Number of pages5
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number37
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2012


    • Great apes
    • Human evolution
    • Negative reciprocity
    • Norm enforcement
    • Social evolution


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