UCL Psychology and Language Sciences



By collaboration or teamwork we mean mutually beneficial behaviours in which two or more individuals work together to obtain a common goal from which they can profit. Although collaborative activities may seem easy to explain in terms of payoffs, they can be challenging from a cognitive perspective. In addition, individuals need to share the obtained resources at the end, in a way such that partners stay motivated to collaborate in the future.

Coordination and Communication in Chimpanzees

Part of our research addresses to which extent chimpanzees are capable of intentional collaboration, employing different strategies to facilitate coordination with a partner when working together towards a common goal. In previous studies we found that chimpanzees recruit a partner when the problem requires collaboration and that they preferentially recruit skillful partners. They are also capable of coordinating and “negotiating” which tray to choose, when there are two collaborative pulling trays with different amounts of rewards, and initial disagreement between the two individuals over which one to choose.

We have also found that they help a partner by transferring the tool she needs to perform her role in the task. This line of studies suggests that they understand the role that the partner plays in the collaborative task and that they are able to employ a variety of strategies to initiate and sustain the collaborative activity with her/him.

In a more recent study, we found that they are also capable of developing a simple but effective communicative strategy to direct the partner to the location of tools that they both need to work together.

We are now exploring the flexibility of this communicative strategy in a project funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation.

Sharing the Spoils in Chimpanzees and Children

How individuals share the resources obtained after collaborative effort is important for the long-term stability of collaboration. In our research we have found that whereas chimpanzees do not reward partners depending on their contribution to the collaborative task (e.g. John et al. 2019), young children from around 3 years of age share resources more equally after joint than individual work (e.g. Melis et al. 2013).