Chimpanzees prepare for alternative possible outcomes

Jan M. Engelmann, Christoph J. Völter, Mariel K. Goddu, Josep Call, Hannes Rakoczy, Esther Herrmann

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When facing uncertainty, humans often build mental models of alternative outcomes. Considering diverging scenarios allows agents to respond adaptively to different actual worlds by developing contingency plans (covering one's bases). In a pre-registered experiment, we tested whether chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) prepare for two mutually exclusive possibilities. Chimpanzees could access two pieces of food, but only if they successfully protected them from a human competitor. In one condition, chimpanzees could be certain about which piece of food the human experimenter would attempt to steal. In a second condition, either one of the food rewards was a potential target of the competitor. We found that chimpanzees were significantly more likely to protect both pieces of food in the second relative to the first condition, raising the possibility that chimpanzees represent and prepare effectively for different possible worlds.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20230179
Number of pages5
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2023


  • chimpanzees
  • reasoning
  • modal cognition
  • future planning

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