Why do you share?

Sometimes you share just to shut people up:

Stevens [the researcher] placed chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) or squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis) in a cage and provided them with a meal of fruit. In an adjoining cage was a hungry member of the same species.

The primates rarely passed food through the cage to their hungry mate next door. But if the partition was opened – giving the hungry animal the chance to beg, steal or fight for food – sharing was common.

It is analogous to a parent buying a child a toy just to shut them up, says Stevens. “It’s a selfish way to stop the constant pestering,” he says.

Intriguingly, hungry chimps harassed their neighbour more when the food was cut into small chunks. This could reflect the fact that a beggar is more likely to get a handout if it doesn’t seriously deplete the donor’s stash.

This form of ‘strategic begging’ could help scroungers find success by setting their sights low, Stevens speculates. “It’s like a kid saying: ‘Can I have four cookies? Ok, how about one?’,” he says. Likewise, most street-corner beggars ask passers-by for nothing more than their small change.

Here is the full story. Right now the link to the original paper is not working.


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