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Bonobo Bad Guys

January 8, 2018

One of our closest relatives, the bonobos, may have very different attitudes toward altruistic behavior in others.


Fizi, an adult male bonobo at Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary. Christopher Krupenye

Fizi, an adult male bonobo at Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary. (Christopher Krupenye)


Uncivil apes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Most people show a preference for those who are helpful towards others. But where did this behavior come from? Duke University evolutionary anthropologists Christopher Krupenye and Brian Hare thought that one of our closest living relatives, the bonobos, might share this preference for do-gooders. But they report in the journal Current Biology, that the apes – normally a peaceful and cooperative species – will actually favor the bad guy when given the choice. Krupenye says it’s possible that bonobos perceive uncivil behavior as a sign of dominance, and that associating with jerks could improve their own social standing.


This study raises the possibility that part of the reason that humans are so intensely cooperative is because we exhibit a suite of early emerging motivations to prefer helpers that we don’t see in other species.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard

Learn more about the  Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the research was conducted.

Read about the research.