Five-year olds, but not chimpanzees, attempt to manage their reputations

Jan M. Engelmann, Esther Herrmann, Michael Tomasello

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Virtually all theories of the evolution of cooperation require that cooperators find ways to interact with one another selectively, to the exclusion of cheaters. This means that individuals must make reputational judgments about others as cooperators, based on either direct or indirect evidence. Humans, and possibly other species, add another component to the process: they know that they are being judged by others, and so they adjust their behavior in order to affect those judgments - so-called impression management. Here, we show for the first time that already preschool children engage in such behavior. In an experimental study, 5-year-old human children share more and steal less when they are being watched by a peer than when they are alone. In contrast, chimpanzees behave the same whether they are being watched by a groupmate or not. This species difference suggests that humans' concern for their own self-reputation, and their tendency to manage the impression they are making on others, may be unique to humans among primates.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere48433
Number of pages7
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2012

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