The Anthropology of Emory and Ebola

Postdoctoral fellow, Laura Jones, PhD, studies communication and team building among hospital operating room staff. Recently, she wrote a Blog post for the BMJ journal Medical Humanities discussing Emory University Hospital’s experience with treating Ebola. EUH operated under an M.O. of being over-prepared but not paranoid, which allowed them to effectively treat the Ebola patients that came through their doors.

To read the full blog post click here.


Chimps share rather than compete for monopolizable resources

A new study co-authored by current Living Links Center graduate student, Sarah Calcutt, was recently published in Behaviour:

Captive chimpanzees share diminishing resources


Two chimpanzees sharing a hole while fishing at an artificial termite mound.

Wild chimpanzees routinely share high-value resources such as meat obtained through hunting and fruit procured from raiding crops. Although it is predicted that the proximate mechanisms for sharing behaviour are the result of reciprocity, interchange and mutualism, examinations of these factors in captivity have not mirrored the degree to which they are found in the wild. The goal of the current study was to investigate how a group of seven captive chimpanzees responded when a highly desirable and monopolizable resource diminished over the course of eight months. To do this we measured the amount of time that was spent sharing food at an artificial termite mound as well as the relationship between dyads that spent time sharing. Our results contradicted our predictions that rates of aggression would increase and the number of individuals fishing at the termite mound would decrease when resources diminished, as we observed no difference in either variable over time. We did, though, find an increase in the amount of sharing as the number of baited holes decreased. We also found a correlation between the strength of dyadic relationships outside of the study and the amount of time that individuals spent sharing with each other.

You can click here to check out the full article.

Frans de Waal on the Science of Cooperation and Empathy

Originally posted on Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. See the original here, or read below.

Intersections at WID: Primatologist Frans de Waal on the Science of Cooperation and Empathy
Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal stopped by our Institute to share his latest thinking on the roots of morality.

Primatologist, researcher and author Frans de Waal, currently the C.H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University and former UW–Madison researcher, has authored numerous popular books on non-human primate behavior and research, including his recent work The Bonobo and the Atheist, which examines the evolutionary roots of morality through observations and research on animal behavior. De Waal stopped by the Institute to visit colleagues Jessica Flack and David Krakauer and give a Very Informal Seminar talk for the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation (C4), a research group in WID.

Continue reading

Chimpanzees Play the Ultimatum Game

The Ultimatum Game is the gold standard of the human sense of fairness. People have played it all over the world, but until now nonhuman animals have never successfully engaged in this game. One individual needs to propose a reward division to another that the other needs to accept before both can obtain the rewards. Obviously, this procedure is not easily arranged without language.

Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, in collaboration with colleagues from Georgia State University, are the first to obtain positive results with chimpanzees. They have shown that our closest relatives possess a sense of fairness that has previously been claimed to be uniquely human. The findings are now available in an early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggesting a long evolutionary history of the human aversion to inequity. Possibly, the common ancestor of apes and humans shared a similar preference for fair outcomes.

See chimpanzees play the ultimatum game here!

The Yerkes team wanted to determine how sensitive chimpanzees are to the reward distribution between two individuals if both need to agree on the outcome. According to first author Darby Proctor, PhD, “We used the Ultimatum Game because it is the ultimate test of the human sense of fairness given both partners must agree on a distribution for either to receive rewards.” Humans typically offer generous portions (such as 50%) of the reward to their partners, and that’s exactly what Proctor and her team recorded in their study with chimpanzees.

Co-author Frans de Waal, PhD, adds, “Until our study, the behavioral economics community assumed the Ultimatum Game could not be played with animals or that animals would choose only the most selfish option while playing. We’ve concluded that chimpanzees not only get very close to the human sense of fairness, but that they may actually have exactly the same preferences as our own species.” For purposes of direct comparison, the study was also conducted separately with human children.

In the study, researchers tested six adult chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and 20 human children (ages 2 – 7 years) on a modified Ultimatum Game. One individual chose between two differently colored tokens that, with his or her partner’s cooperation, could be exchanged for rewards (small food rewards for chimpanzees and stickers for children). One token offered equal rewards to both players, whereas the other token favored the individual making the choice at the expense of his or her partner. The chooser then needed to hand the token to the partner, who needed to exchange it with the experimenter for food. This way, both individuals needed to be in agreement.

Both the chimpanzees and the children responded like adult humans typically do. If the partner’s cooperation was required, the chimpanzees/children split the rewards equally. However, with a passive partner, who had no chance to reject the offer, they went for the selfish option.

Chimpanzees, who are highly cooperative in the wild, likely need to be sensitive to reward distributions in order to reap the benefits of cooperation. Thus, this study opens the door for further explorations into the mechanisms behind this human-like behavior.