Gabriele Schino was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant during our fall 2014 cycle for his project entitled “The emotional basis of primate reciprocity.” He and his collaborator Elsa Addessi are from the Institute for Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, National Research Council in Rome, Italy.
Gabriele Schino and Elsa Addessi
Reciprocal cooperation is a prominent characteristic of human behavior, but is also widespread among non-human animals. Analyses of the time frame of reciprocal exchanges have shown that non-human primates are able to reciprocate over extended time frames and that their cooperative behavior seems not to be motivated by the expectation of a return benefit. This suggests that complex cognitive abilities, such as an understanding of future events, are not required for reciprocity, and that simpler, emotionally based mechanisms may be at work. Direct experimental evidence supporting this hypothesis is however still lacking.
Quincy, an adult female capuchin monkey (Sapajus spp.). Quincy is one of the 24 capuchins hosted in four groups at the Unit of Cognitive Primatology of the Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione, CNR, in Rome, Italy, where the project “Emotional basis of primate reciprocity” is being carried out. Photo credit: Sabrina Rossi
With the support of the Leakey Foundation, we will experimentally investigate the emotional consequences of both cooperative and uncooperative social interactions (grooming and aggression, respectively) in tufted capuchin monkey, by means of cognitive bias tests. Originally described in psychiatric patients, cognitive bias consists in the preferential interpretation of ambiguous stimuli as “positive” or “negative” (judgment bias) or in the preferential attention to “positive” or “negative” stimuli (attention bias) in relation to the emotional state of the subject. We expect grooming to induce positive emotions and aggression to induce negative emotions, as measured in cognitive bias tests. Evidence of an emotionally based mechanism supporting the exchange of cooperative behaviors in primates would shed light on the foundations over which human cooperation evolved, and integrate the study of the evolutionary mechanisms and selective pressures that have led to modern human behavior with an understanding of if and how its proximate mechanisms have changed during evolution.