Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cooperation shapes abilities of the human brain

Date:
August 27, 2014
Source:
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
Summary:
Chimpanzees are regarded as more intelligent than marmosets. Yet, like humans, it is marmosets that will often come to the aid of their fellow group members, even unprompted. This willingness to help is derived from cooperative breeding – and it explains the unique abilities of the human brain, as suggested by a study involving comparative tests on monkeys and young children.

Chimpanzees are regarded as more intelligent than marmosets. Yet, like humans, it is marmosets that will often come to the aid of their fellow group members, even unprompted. This willingness to help is derived from cooperative breeding -- and it explains the unique abilities of the human brain, as suggested by a study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation involving comparative tests on monkeys and nursery children.

Related Articles


For several decades many characteristics originally classed as being specific to humans have been seen in a new light. This exclusive interpretation has given way to the view that our ability to plan and remember does not differentiate us from other great apes. In fact, the opposite is true. These cognitive abilities, along with our use of tools, link us to our closest biological relatives. And yet there is a substantial difference to which reference is frequently made when it comes to explaining the unique nature of humans' cognitive and cultural skills.

Spontaneous assistance

This difference relates to behaviour. Chimpanzees only rarely come to the assistance of other chimpanzees without being prompted. Additionally, they do not spontaneously share their food with other chimpanzees. This "pro-social" disposition is demonstrated by children -- and common marmosets -- much more frequently, as reported in the journal Nature Communications by Judith Burkart and her colleagues from the Anthropological Institute and Museum at the University of Zurich.

The scientists used a standardised test carried out with fifteen different primate species (including humans) to compare the extent to which the members of a group cooperate with one another. To do this, the researchers laid out food on a board outside the monkeys' cage.

Food placed out of reach

One side of the board had a lever that could be used to pull the board towards the cage. The food was located on the other side of the board and could be reached by a member of the group whenever another member operated the lever (but as soon as the lever was released, a coil spring caused the board to return to its starting position away from the cage). The board was too long to enable one individual member to operate the lever and reach the food at the same time. However, one individual could do the other members of the group a service by bringing the food into reach.

Whilst the investigated groups of macaques and chimpanzees almost never retrieved the food from the board, the marmosets and the nursery children (who were playing with the board in a see-through cabinet rather than from behind the bars of a cage) almost always managed to get to the food. Given that the willingness to help is not linked to brain size, this has nothing to do with intelligence. "Marmosets have small brains and are not particularly bright," explains Burkart. They perform less well than chimpanzees in memory tests or in recognising causal relationships, but are at times superior to chimpanzees in terms of their social learning. The mother marmosets will for example demonstrate advantageous behaviour to their young.

Potential of human brain unfolded

A key factor in the level of willingness to help is the amount of care that a child has received from group members other than the mother. According to Burkart, the marmosets appear to be as willing to help with the raising of offspring, as they are willing to share their food or information. In the case of humans, it takes a proverbial village to raise a child. Consequently, the abilities of the human brain exceed the individualistic cognitive skills of a chimpanzee's brain. "It is only through cooperation that the potential of the human brain has flourished," sums up Burkart.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. M. Burkart, O. Allon, F. Amici, C. Fichtel, C. Finkenwirth, A. Heschl, J. Huber, K. Isler, Z. K. Kosonen, E. Martins, E.J. Meulman, R. Richiger, K. Rueth, B. Spillmann, S. Wiesendanger, C. P. van Schaik. The evolutionary origin of human hyper-cooperation. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 4747 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5747

Cite This Page:

Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). "Cooperation shapes abilities of the human brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140827092103.htm>.
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). (2014, August 27). Cooperation shapes abilities of the human brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140827092103.htm
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). "Cooperation shapes abilities of the human brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140827092103.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) Moms and Dads get a more hands-on approach to parenting with tech-centric products for raising their little ones. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) Researchers have come up with another reason why dark chocolate is good for your health. A substance in the treat can reportedly help with memory. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

AFP (Oct. 27, 2014) Coding has become compulsory for children as young as five in schools across the UK. Making it the first major world economy to overhaul its IT teaching and put programming at its core. Duration: 02:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


The Evolutionary Roots of Human Altruism

Aug. 27, 2014 Scientists have long been searching for the factor that determines why humans often behave so selflessly. It was known that humans share this tendency with species of small Latin American primates of ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins