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Chimps and Punishment

September 6, 2012

Chimps exhibit many human-like social behaviors, but punishing the crimes of others isn’t one of them.



Chimps and punishment.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Chimps are highly social, but unlike humans, they don’t punish crimes against their neighbors.  This according to a study at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.  Psychologist Keith Jensen, also of Queen Mary University in London, says their chimps watched another chimp steal food from a third.  The witness then had the opportunity to stop the thief from eating, by collapsing the food table.

KEITH JENSEN (Queen Mary University/Max Planck Institute)

If they have rules, such as stealing is bad – not just stealing from me, but stealing is bad – then this should be very upsetting, and then they should collapse the table in response.

But they didn’t, at least no more than in neutral situations.  In contrast, chimps that were stolen from directly often punished the offender.


The chimpanzees who lost food will get very upset, and will collapse the table, preventing the  other chimpanzee from eating.


The results suggest that humans may be uniquely predisposed to seek justice for others.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Chimpanzees don't share our sense of justice. (Georgia Institute of Technology)