The effects of being watched on resource acquisition in chimpanzees and human children

Jan M. Engelmann, Esther Herrmann, Michael Tomasello

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Animals react in many different ways to being watched by others. In the context of cooperation, many theories emphasize reputational effects: Individuals should cooperate more if other potential cooperators are watching. In the context of competition, individuals might want to show off their strength and prowess if other potential competitors are watching. In the current study, we observed chimpanzees and human children in three experimental conditions involving resource acquisition: Participants were either in the presence of a passive observer (observed condition), an active observer who engaged in the same task as the participant (competition condition), or in the presence of but not directly observed by a conspecific (mere presence condition). While both species worked to acquire more resources in the competition condition, children but not chimpanzees also worked to acquire more resources in the observer condition (compared to the mere presence condition). These results suggest evolutionary continuity with regard to competition-based observer effects, but an additional observer effect in young children, potentially arising from an evolutionary-based concern for cooperative reputation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-151
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number1
Early online date8 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Competition
  • Cooperation
  • Reputation
  • Social evaluation
  • Observer
  • Audience

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