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Gibbon strategies in a food competition task.

  • Author(s): Sánchez-Amaro, Alejandro
  • Ball, Robert
  • Rossano, Federico
  • et al.

Social primates face conflicts of interest with other partners when their individual and collective interests collide. Despite living in small, primarily bonded, groups compared to other social primates, gibbons are not exempt from these conflicts in their everyday lives. In the current task, we asked whether dyads of gibbons would solve a conflict of interest over food rewards. We presented dyads of gibbons with a situation in which they could decide whether to take an active role and pull a handle to release food rewards at a distance or take a passive role and avoid action. In this situation, the passive partner could take an advantageous position to obtain the rewards over the active partner. Gibbons participated in three conditions: a control condition with no food rewards, a test condition with indirect food rewards and a test condition with direct food rewards. In both test conditions, five rewards were released at a distance from the handle. In addition, the active individual could obtain one extra food reward from the handle in the direct food condition. We found that gibbons acted more often in the two conditions involving food rewards, and waited longer in the indirect compared to the direct food condition, thus suggesting that they understood the task contingencies. Surprisingly, we found that in a majority of dyads, individuals in the active role obtained most of the payoff compared to individuals in the passive role in both food conditions. Furthermore, in some occasions individuals in the active role did not approach the location where the food was released. These results suggest that while gibbons may strategize to maximize benefits in a competitive food task, they often allowed their partners to obtain better rewards. Our results highlight the importance of social tolerance and motivation as drivers promoting cooperation in these species.

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