Monkeys Shun Selfish Others

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Capuchin monkeys are known for their ability to recognize when they’re being treated inequitably, but it now appears the primates can even spot unfairness in situations that don’t involve themselves.

The fluffy-faced monkeys judge the social interactions of others and hold biases against individuals behaving poorly, new research shows.

In a pair of studies, researchers investigated how capuchin monkeys in captivity reacted to different third-party social interactions. In one study, capuchins watched two actors engage in reciprocity exchanges, in which one actor handed over several balls to another, who then either reciprocated or selfishly kept all the balls. The second study involved a similar setup, but this time one actor helped or refused to help another actor who was struggling to open a container.

After each scene, the monkeys chose a treat from one of the actors — they consistently avoided treats from actors who refused to reciprocate or help. Capuchins in the wild may keep tabs on group members to figure out whom to avoid interacting with on a specific day, researchers said.

“The research implies capuchin monkeys are judging other individuals even when they aren’t involved in the action, something that humans do all the time,” said Sarah Brosnan, an ethnologist at Georgia State University, who wasn’t involved in the new research. “It suggests the behavior may be deeply rooted in the primate family tree.”

Written By: Joseph Castro
continue to source article at livescience.com

21 COMMENTS

  1. Does this support E. O. Wilson’s argument for Group Selection? It seems to me that this is a kind of altruistic behavior that only makes sense when viewed at from the view of the species as a whole rather than by kin selection or some other mechanism, or am I missing something?

    • In reply to #1 by Red Dog:

      Does this support E. O. Wilson’s argument for Group Selection?

      No, it’s a clever form of reciprocal altruism. Identifying cheaters before they cheat you saves time and energy.

      There is no evidence which could support “group selection” because the concept is completely incoherent.

      • In reply to #3 by Peter Grant:

        In reply to #1 by Red Dog:

        Does this support E. O. Wilson’s argument for Group Selection?

        No, it’s a clever form of reciprocal altruism. Identifying cheaters before they cheat you saves time and energy.

        If they were refusing to SHARE their food with cheaters I agree but it seems as if they are refusing to TAKE food from the cheaters. I don’t see how you can explain that as reciprocal altruism. And it doesn’t work to say that taking food from a cheater puts you in their debt. They are cheaters so you don’t have to worry about paying them back since you know they won’t pay you back. From a conventional game theory approach I don’t think a selfish gene explanation works here.

        • In reply to #4 by Red Dog:

          If they were refusing to SHARE their food with cheaters I agree but it seems as if they are refusing to TAKE food from the cheaters. I don’t see how you can explain that as reciprocal altruism. And it doesn’t work to say that taking food from a cheater puts you in their debt. They are cheaters so you don’t have to worry about paying them back since you know they won’t pay you back. From a conventional game theory approach I don’t think a selfish gene explanation works here.

          They’re cheaters remember, or at least the human experimenters are being perceived as cheaters. Who says they will actually give you the food and aren’t trying to trick you in some way? Whatever the monkey’s subjective reasons may be, it still makes evolutionary sense to avoid such sneaky individuals.

          • In reply to #6 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #4 by Red Dog:

            They’re cheaters remember, or at least the human experimenters are being perceived as cheaters. Who says they will actually give you the food and aren’t trying to trick you in some way? Whatever the monkey’s subjective reasons may be, it still makes evolutionary sense to avoid such sneaky individuals.

            That is an interesting hypothesis but I don’t see any evidence of it. The article mentions several scenarios of this kind where chimps or monkeys turn down food because the person or offer is seen as unfair. I saw no mention of deception, no reason that the animals would assume that the offer wasn’t genuine. In fact the offers are usually very immediate, there is food right in front of them ready to just take, so I don’t see how deception could be much of an option, at least for a chimp brain it seems like a long shot.

            The most interesting one to me is the example of chimps turning down a cucumber when they expect a grape as the “fair” treat. In those cases they clearly make a counter intuitive decision from the selfish gene standpoint, turning down free food. I’m not saying that its impossible for someone to come up with an explanation that doesn’t require group selection but only that I don’t see an obvious one and that if I were a follower of Wilson I would be using this to argue for his theory that group selection can play a role in the evolution of higher mammals as well as insects.

          • In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

            You first have to define what a “group” is and how it is being selected. Is it a family group, an entire species or genus or perhaps all life on earth? The human experimenters are also primates, does that make them part of the same group?

        • In reply to #4 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #3 by Peter Grant:

          In reply to #1 by Red Dog:

          Does this support E. O. Wilson’s argument for Group Selection?

          No, it’s a clever form of reciprocal altruism. Identifying cheaters before they cheat you saves time and energy.

          If they were refusing to SHARE their food with cheaters I agree but it seems as if they are refusing to TAKE food from the cheaters. I don’t see how you can explain that as reciprocal altruism. And it doesn’t work to say that taking food from a cheater puts you in their debt. They are cheaters so you don’t have to worry about paying them back since you know they won’t pay you back. From a conventional game theory approach I don’t think a selfish gene explanation works here.

          I’m thinking of the “Grudgers” game Dawkins programmed, where those who don’t reciprocate grooming are denied grooming by others. Declining a treat may be part of a general grudge, excluding the individual from all social interactions, forbidding them from even making amends or being seen as fair in the eyes of others watching. I see the selfish-gene behind this in terms of the excluded individual, rather than the one declining a treat.

          Still, I think you are onto something. I doubt you will win a group-selection argument, but this might require an insightful nuance to the selfish theory.

          • In reply to #8 by This Is Not A Meme:

            Exactly, it’s like tit for tat, but cleverly avoiding the tat.

          • I’m thinking of the “Grudgers” game Dawkins programmed, where those who don’t reciprocate grooming are denied grooming by others. Declining a treat may be part of a general grudge, excluding the individual from all social interactions, forbidding them from even making amends or being seen as fair in the eyes of others watching. I see the selfish-gene behind this in terms of the excluded individual, rather than the one declining a treat.

            I’d say that it appears to be a case of general ostracisation as a punishment, which may be a pre-emptive protection from future cheating at the hands of the individual (also as a corrective punishment, it’s common in human societies if you look back a month or two at the “ayn rand, you fail” thread)

  2. Collaboration is important for survival and it may be that our judgement around whom we trust and other moral issues stem from it. We all have a strong dislike of cheats and free loaders and we often punish them even at cost (effort) to ourselves.

  3. I have a close friend who is a capuchin monkey. Whenever we get together he rambles on and on about which monkeys are nasty, which are nice etc… He mentions this place he calls “hell” and this other place called “heaven”….
    Oh, wait, that’s not my monkey friend…. that’s another friend all together.

  4. A tufted capuchin, resident of the Amazon Basin, eats as another capuchin grooms him.

    Capuchins are some of the most capable monkeys at learned tool use, which they copy from more able older members of their groups, so perception of social skills should not be too surprising.

  5. Not surprising but it’s heartening in a way. Altruism is observed in the high intelligent animals. Such animals are obviously social and operate in groups. Groups are very efficient in isolating individuals who do not act within the social norms of the group.

    Of course such isolation can be necessary , but it also can be cruel , immoral , authoritarian , dictatorial given rise to bullying and even murder. I am unfortunately a group skeptic and would never make a good politician.

    • In reply to #15 by This Is Not A Meme:

      Is Kin Selection considered altruism? When a microbe commits suicide to prevent infection from spreading to others of its kind, is that Kin Selection, or even altruism?

      Sure, why not? If we want to use the term altruism meaningfully instead of as some essentialised, platonic ideal form, then yes Kin Selection is a type of altruism.

  6. I’m bookmarking this article like I do others to use in discussions with theists about the naturalistic origins of morality. I don’t expect that they’ll be convinced by it, as they haven’t been convinced by others, but still want to thank RDNET for making this stuff available.

    (I particularly like to reference articles about capuchin monkeys to Catholics seeing as how they got their names because they look like Capuchin monks.)

  7. so is this basically suggesting that it takes the cognative capacty of a monkey to manage to understand the concept of decent social behaviour without requiring weekly pavlovian conditioning?

    and they call Richad strident!

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