Does the bonobo have a (chimpanzee-like) theory of mind?

Christopher Krupenye, Evan L. MacLean, Brian Hare

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Theory of mind-the ability to reason about the thoughts and emotions of others-is central to what makes us human. Chimpanzees too appear to understand some psychological states. While less is known about bonobos, several lines of evidence suggest that the social-cognitive abilities of the two sister taxa may differ in key respects. This chapter outlines a framework to guide future research on bonobo social cognition based on the predictions of two potentially complementary hypotheses. The self-domestication hypothesis suggests that selection against aggression and for prosociality in bonobos may have impacted the ontogeny of their social-cognitive skills relative to chimpanzees. The empathizing-systemizing hypothesis links degree of prenatal brain masculinization, a potential result of self-domestication, to adult cognition. Specifically, relative feminization may yield more flexible theory of mind skills in bonobos than chimpanzees. Finally, directions for future study, including development of new paradigms that maximize ecological validity for bonobos, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBonobos
Subtitle of host publicationUnique in Mind, Brain, and Behavior
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780198728511
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Bonobo
  • Chimpanzee
  • Cognitive evolution
  • Mind reading
  • Self-domestication
  • Social cognition
  • Systemizing-empathizing
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science


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