Chimpanzees have police officers

by on March 16, 2012 at 6:21 am in Law | Permalink

Anthropologists now reveal that chimpanzees mediate conflicts between other group members, not for their own direct benefit, but rather to preserve the peace within the group. Their impartial intervention in a conflict — so-called “policing” — can be regarded as an early evolutionary form of moral behavior.

…primatologists from the University of Zurich can now confirm that chimpanzees intervene impartially in a conflict to guarantee the stability of their group. They therefore exhibit prosocial behavior based on an interest in community concern.

The willingness of the arbitrators to intervene impartially is greatest if several quarrelers are involved in a dispute as such conflicts particularly jeopardize group peace.

…It is primarily high-ranking males or females or animals that are highly respected in the group that intervene in a conflict. Otherwise, the arbitrators are unable to end the conflict successfully. As with humans, there are also authorities among chimpanzees.

The article is here and for the pointer I thank Eduardo Pegurier.

Andrew' March 16, 2012 at 7:32 am

They also have mercenaries, a la the trunk monkey.

Andrew' March 16, 2012 at 8:03 am

A Peel to Authority

Hey, those are the jokes folks. Free and worth every penny.

rjs March 16, 2012 at 8:34 am

sounds like goldman sachs could use some chimps..

Andrew' March 16, 2012 at 9:49 am

Why is “Muppets” an insult? GS needs to watch more Muppets. Maybe they’d lighten up.

Dave Hansen March 16, 2012 at 10:24 am

“It is primarily high-ranking males or females or animals that are highly respected in the group that intervene in a conflict.”

And here is where the chimpanzees’ social order outperforms ours. Instead, we have those who are often the least deserving of our respect trying to intervene.

DJB March 16, 2012 at 11:56 am

Too true.

Angry Sock Puppet March 16, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I am sorry but did I just see someone confusing “is” and “ought”? The chimpanzees may give authority to those that are high respected, but that does not mean those individuals should be respected. Just as even if we gave authority to those that do not deserve to have it, it doesn’t mean that they are not, in fact, respected.

Bill March 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm

If you want more on this subject, Oxford has had a recent ITunes series on the evolution of the social brain, brain chemistry, group enforcement, tribe size, etc. You can download the two day conference at ITunes U, lookinng for the title as New Thinking: Advances in the Study of Human Cognitive Evolution, a conference held on June 23 and 24 2011. Look for the lectures on metacognition and cultural inheritance and brain evolution.

Adam March 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Has anyone considered how this policing could be made unnecessary if all chimps carried concealed handguns?

Reagan Was Right March 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Okay, I admit, that was funny.

Rahul March 16, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Just think about where!

axa March 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm

this field of science is getting really interesting. in the last century, most of the research was conducted by people flavored with some kind of misanthropy. but in the last decade new research is starting to change the paradigm “animals are innocent and pure/humans are hypocrite and evil”.

Silas Barta March 16, 2012 at 1:22 pm

“Okay, Bobo, you understand that throwing feces at another chimp is a big no-no, right? It’s like, forcing someone to not participate in one of our orgies. And Buggles, you’re right that Bobo should never have hurled that feces at you, but you have to admit that you’re not exactly helping the tribe when you insinuate that Bobo engages in autosexual activities by making those hand gestures. We have to get along, you know? Buggles, you need to apologize, and Bobo, you need to pay compensation of 5 grapes and a banana. Then, we can forget about this whole mess.”

Steven Kopits March 16, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Evolutionary economics! Agency–for example, policing (keeping the order on behalf of the group)–is the necessary corollary of communication and organized social behavior. For a team to function, members of the group must accept the primacy of the requirements of the role over that of any immediate individual need. They need to assume the role of agent, and surpress the desire to act as principal. Or as Giselle might say, “Tom can’t both throw and catch the ball!”

But if you’re acting as an agent (and subsuming your own interests), then how do you get paid? Someone has to allocate the risks, rewards and efforts in the group. If the chimps catch a small monkey to eat, who gets to eat, how much, and in what order? So the allocation part is critical–that’s the nature and challenges of social conservatism right there. (And it’s what Jon Haidt doesn’t have the technical skills to grapple with–he should have studied economics!)

But this problem, by rights, had to have evolutionary origins. And now we see it documented!

Further, it stands to reason that egalitarianism should also have evolutionary origins. Can we find some chimps engaged in egalitarian behavior?

Adam March 16, 2012 at 3:46 pm

No, that’s all wrong. The lesson is everyone can be made equally supreme by carrying a gun.

Or maybe I agree with you ;)

Angry Sock Puppet March 16, 2012 at 5:49 pm

There may be a small problem with this study – they are observing chimpanzees in a zoo. In the context of a situation which may or may not be likely to occur in the wild – the introduction of some extra female chimpanzees. Added to which the likely sympathies of the observers – remember the generosity with which chimpanzee “sign language” is allegedly over interpreted – may bias the study.

I think it is likely to be true. It would make sense for it to be true. But that doesn’t mean it is. Zoo behavior is not natural behavior.

Jeffrey Deutsch March 16, 2012 at 10:26 pm

If any of this surprises you, check out Richard Conniff’s The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature.

Andrew’, I’m guessing your pun is based on Sir Robert Peel, who paved the way for the police as we know them, yes?

Jeff Deutsch

Justin Ma March 17, 2012 at 12:38 am

There’s quite a number of other interesting chimp studies that replicate both economic and philosophical models. One of my favorites was a group of chimps reverting to poop flinging, in the absence of a strong leader – Hobbes, anyone?

Cyrus March 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm

How does one distinguish, the high-ranking individual intervenes to preserve group stability from, the high-ranking individual intervenes to preserve the stabilty of its high-ranking status?

Adam March 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm

An interesting question.

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