Spontaneous Triadic Engagement in Chimpanzees and Bonobos

MacLean, E. L. & Hare, B. (2013). Spontaneous Triadic Engagement in Chimpanzees and Bonobos. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 127(3), 245-255. doi:10.1037/a0030935 [PDF]

Humans are believed to have evolved a unique motivation to participate in joint activities that first develops during infancy and supports the development of shared intentionality. We conducted five experiments with bonobos (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) (Total n = 119) to assess their motivation to spontaneously participate in joint activities with a conspecific or a human. We found that even the youngest subjects preferred to interact together with a human and a toy rather than engaging in an identical game alone. In addition, we found that subjects could spontaneously interact with a human in a turn-taking game involving passing a ball back and forth and used behaviors to elicit additional interaction when the game was disrupted. However, when paired with a conspecific, subjects preferred to interact with an object individually rather than together. Our results indicate that nonhuman apes are motivated to engage in triadic activities if they occur spontaneously with humans and require a minimum amount of coordination. These findings leave open the question of whether these activities are coordinated through shared intentions.