The study found that chimpanzees may not be the selfless, altruistic animals previously thought.
When there was no anticipated benefit to themselves, chimpanzees do not help others, however, they are not spiteful either.
But, they do not care whether their fellow chimpanzee gets food or not, the researchers said.
“Chimpanzees appear indifferent to others when it comes to giving food to others in experimental settings, yet puzzlingly, they have been shown to help humans and other chimpanzees,” said Keith Jensen, from the University of Manchester in Britain.
The study challenges the view that the roots of human altruism extend down at least as far as our common ancestor with chimpanzees. Rather, “helping might have formerly arisen as a by-product of interesting tasks,” the researchers observed.
For the study, the team conducted an experiment on 13 chimpanzees from the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda.
They were split into two groups and tested with three recipient chimpanzees. They were able to see and hear one another and the equipment, including a food box containing shelled peanuts, locked in position by a peg and reachable only from the recipients’ room.
The chimpanzees released the peg at high rates but this quickly declined when there was no reward for them and they also didn’t release the peg to help those in the recipient group.
“The results demonstrate that the chimpanzees did not act in a manner that would produce benefits for others in a task where there was no perceived benefit to themselves,” added Claudio Tennie from the University of Birmingham in Britain.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.