Comparing physical and social cognitive skills in macaque species with different degrees of social tolerance

Marine Joly, Jerome Micheletta, Arianna De Marco, Jan Langermans, Elisabeth H. M. Sterck, Bridget Waller

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Contemporary evolutionary theories propose that living in groups drives the selection of enhanced cognitive skills to face competition and facilitate cooperation between individuals. Being able to coordinate both in space and time with others and make strategic decisions are essential skills for cooperating within groups. Social tolerance and an egalitarian social structure have been proposed as one specific driver of cooperation. Therefore, social tolerance is predicted to be associated with enhanced cognitive skills that underpin communication and coordination. Social tolerance should also be associated with enhanced inhibition, which is crucial for suppressing automatic responses and permitting delayed gratification in cooperative contexts. We tested the performance of four closely related non-human primate species (genus Macaca) characterised by different degrees of social tolerance on a large battery of cognitive tasks covering physical and social cognition, and on an inhibitory control task. All species performed at a comparable level on the physical cognition tasks but the more tolerant species outperformed the less tolerant species at a social cognition task relevant to cooperation and in the inhibitory control task. These findings support the hypothesis that social tolerance is associated with the evolution of sophisticated cognitive skills relevant for cooperative social living.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20162738
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1862
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2017


  • cognition
  • evolution
  • friendship
  • communication
  • monkeys
  • great apes


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