Prosocial behaviour emerges independent of reciprocity in cottontop tamarins

Katherine A. Cronin, Kori K. E. Schroeder, Charles T. Snowdon

Abstract

The cooperative breeding hypothesis posits that cooperatively breeding species are motivated to act prosocially, that is, to behave in ways that provide benefits to others, and that cooperative breeding has played a central role in the evolution of human prosociality. However, investigations of prosocial behaviour in cooperative breeders have produced varying results and the mechanisms contributing to this variation are unknown. We investigated whether reciprocity would facilitate prosocial behaviour among cottontop tamarins, a cooperatively breeding primate species likely to engage in reciprocal altruism, by comparing the number of food rewards transferred to partners who had either immediately previously provided or denied rewards to the subject. Subjects were also tested in a non-social control condition. Overall, results indicated that reciprocity increased food transfers. However, temporal analyses revealed that when the tamarins' behaviour was evaluated in relation to the non-social control, results were best explained by (i) an initial depression in the transfer of rewards to partners who recently denied rewards, and (ii) a prosocial effect that emerged late in sessions independent of reciprocity. These results support the cooperative breeding hypothesis, but suggest a minimal role for positive reciprocity, and emphasize the importance of investigating proximate temporal mechanisms underlying prosocial behaviour.

  • Received April 25, 2010.
  • Accepted June 22, 2010.
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