Bonobos prefer to associate with bullies, study reports
A new study shows that bonobos gravitate towards meaner or more dominant individuals.

Joseph Scalise | Apr 19, 2018

Researchers at Duke University have discovered that bonobos -- one of mankind's closest relatives -- prefer to socialize with bullies rather than with kinder individuals, a new study published in the journal Current Biology reports.

This finding follows up on a 2007 study that showed human babies are not only able to figure out who around them is helpful and who is antagonistic, but that they also tend to gravitate towards helpers. Those findingsled scientists to postulate that such behavior could be key to human interactions and act as the basis for more sophisticated cooperative behavior.

The team in the new study tested those theories by studying if apes also preferred social, helpful interactions. They did that by showing bonobos at the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary cartoons of simple shapes either helping another shape up a hill, or blocking them and pushing them downward. They then showed the animals a "helper" aiding someone who dropped their teddy bear, and a "hinderer" stealing the bear.

When offered an apple slice from the helpers and the hinderers, or when the slices were placed under paper cutouts of the helpful and unhelpful shapes, bonobos generally showed preference for the meaner option.

Such a preference is surprising because bonobos are typically seen as peaceful creatures. In fact, the team chose them over chimpanzees because they are known to be more socially cooperative than other apes. However, that reputation may not be entirely true. The species fights and lives in a society of dominance, which could help explain why they would prefer more controlling individuals.

"For them, dominance is really important," said lead author Christopher Krupenye, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Technology, according to Newsweek. "We think that they are seeing the hinderer as the dominant individual because the individual blocks someone else's goal."

This study shows that humans may be alone in their preference for helpers, but there is no way to tell if our appreciation for nice behavior is a unique trait, or if bonobos are the outliers. Further study on other apes could answer that question, but for the time being the team believes humans may be alone in their passion for kindness.

"Humans might have this unique preference for helpers that is really at the heart of why we're so cooperative," added Krupenye, according to International Business Times.

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