Bonobos prefer spending time with bullies

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Acting nasty is a big turnoff for most people, but for our primate cousins, the bonobos, it’s actually an attraction.

While humans generally prefer individuals who are nice to others, members of the species – who are closely related to homosapiens – prefer the company of bullies, according to a new study. 

Experts say the results suggest that peoples’ preference for cooperation evolved after our species diverged from other apes, around six to seven million years ago.

In primate society, however, it still pays to be powerful and to have dominant allies, which may explain the findings.

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Acting nasty is a big turnoff for most people but for our primate cousins the bonobos it's actually an attraction. While humans generally prefer individuals who are nice to others, members of the species prefer those who hinder rather than help their fellow creatures

Acting nasty is a big turnoff for most people but for our primate cousins the bonobos it’s actually an attraction. While humans generally prefer individuals who are nice to others, members of the species prefer those who hinder rather than help their fellow creatures

THE TEST METHODS 

Researchers showed bonobos two-dimensional animated shapes that helped or hindered each other, recreating the earlier study did with infants.

They then evaluated the bonobos’ preference for one character or the other by watching which paper cutout character, placed atop a slice of apple, they reached for first.

In additional experiments, bonobos were given a choice to interact with unfamiliar humans they’d observed either helping or hindering. 

In every case, bonobos showed an ability to differentiate helpers and hinderers. 

Surprisingly, however, they showed a preference for hinderers every time. 

A final experiment suggested that the bonobos’ preference for hinderers might be driven by attraction to more dominant individuals.

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina studied adult bonobos at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Previous studies have shown that infants as young as three months old can distinguish nice guys from creeps and prefer interacting with people they see helping others over those who are mean.

Evolutionary anthropologists from the university wanted to find out if these African apes, one of human’s two of closest relatives in the animal kingdom, shared this tendency.   

They were surprised to find that for bonobos the reverse is true.

The animals are thought to be less aggressive than their common chimpanzee relatives. 

Experts believe the evidence suggests bonobos prefer those who pick on others because they see them as more dominant. 

Christopher Krupenye, who co authored the study, said: ‘We were surprised in that many have characterized bonobos as being the most cooperative, “hippie” ape.

‘Our experiments show that the issue is much more nuanced.  

‘Bonobos exhibit a high level of social intelligence, tracking others’ social interactions and evaluating novel social partners based on these observations. 

‘What motivates social preferences may be fundamentally different in bonobos and humans. 

‘Bonobos are highly socially tolerant in food settings and help and cooperate with food in ways that we don’t see in chimpanzees. 

‘However, dominance still plays an important role in their lives.’ 

The researchers showed bonobos two-dimensional animated shapes that helped or hindered each other, recreating the earlier study did with infants. 

Experts say the results suggest that peoples' preference for cooperation evolved after our species diverged from other apes. In the primate society of the bonobo, however, it pays to be dominant and to have dominant allies, which may explain the findings (stock image)

Experts say the results suggest that peoples' preference for cooperation evolved after our species diverged from other apes. In the primate society of the bonobo, however, it pays to be dominant and to have dominant allies, which may explain the findings (stock image)

Experts say the results suggest that peoples’ preference for cooperation evolved after our species diverged from other apes. In the primate society of the bonobo, however, it pays to be dominant and to have dominant allies, which may explain the findings (stock image)

They then evaluated the bonobos’ preference for one character or the other by watching which paper cutout character, placed atop a slice of apple, they reached for first.

In additional experiments, bonobos were given a choice to interact with unfamiliar humans they’d observed either helping or hindering. 

In every case, bonobos showed an ability to differentiate helpers and hinderers. 

Surprisingly, however, they showed a preference for hinderers every time. 

A final experiment suggested that the bonobos’ preference for hinderers might be driven by attraction to more dominant individuals.

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina made the discovery while studying adult bonobos at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina made the discovery while studying adult bonobos at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina made the discovery while studying adult bonobos at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo





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