Collaboration encourages equal sharing in children but not in chimpanzees


Humans actively share resources with one another to a much greater degree than do other great apes, and much human sharing is governed by social norms of fairness and equity1,2,3. When in receipt of a windfall of resources, human children begin showing tendencies towards equitable distribution with others at five to seven years of age4,5,6,7. Arguably, however, the primordial situation for human sharing of resources is that which follows cooperative activities such as collaborative foraging, when several individuals must share the spoils of their joint efforts8,9,10. Here we show that children of around three years of age share with others much more equitably in collaborative activities than they do in either windfall or parallel-work situations. By contrast, one of humans’ two nearest primate relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), ‘share’ (make food available to another individual) just as often whether they have collaborated with them or not. This species difference raises the possibility that humans’ tendency to distribute resources equitably may have its evolutionary roots in the sharing of spoils after collaborative efforts.

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Figure 1: Child study tasks.
Figure 2: Rates of equal shares.
Figure 3: Chimpanzee study task.


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We thank all the children and day-care centres involved in this work for their cooperation, and we thank J. Dauksch, G. Duden, A. Gampe, I. Gavriliu, L. Hering, C. Markmann, M. Plötner, E. Rossi, A. Schrimpf, C. Weiske and the practical students at the Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center, Leipzig, for their help in recruiting children, data collection and behaviour coding. We also thank R. Pieszek and M. Ulrich for building the apparatuses, S. Tüpke and M. Sureck for creating the figures, R. Mundry for statistical advice and the zookeepers at Leipzig Zoo for their assistance with the chimpanzees. This work received funding from the EC Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 215805.

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K.H., F.W., J.R.G. and M.T. designed the study and wrote the paper. K.H. and J.R.G. conducted the studies and analysed the data. F.W. supervised the research.

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Correspondence to Katharina Hamann or Felix Warneken.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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The file contains Supplementary Methods, Results and Data for 6 case studies, Supplementary Figures 1-6 with legends, Supplementary Table 1 and additional references. (PDF 543 kb)

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Hamann, K., Warneken, F., Greenberg, J. et al. Collaboration encourages equal sharing in children but not in chimpanzees. Nature 476, 328–331 (2011).

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