Spontaneous triadic engagement in bonobos (pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (pan troglodytes)

Evan MacLean, Brian Hare

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Humans are believed to have evolved a unique motivation to participate in joint activities that first develops during infancy and supports the development of shared intentionality. We conducted five experiments with bonobos (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) (Total n 119) to assess their motivation to spontaneously participate in joint activities with a conspecific or a human. We found that even the youngest subjects preferred to interact together with a human and a toy rather than engaging in an identical game alone. In addition, we found that subjects could spontaneously interact with a human in a turn-taking game involving passing a ball back and forth and used behaviors to elicit additional interaction when the game was disrupted. However, when paired with a conspecific, subjects preferred to interact with an object individually rather than together. Our results indicate that nonhuman apes are motivated to engage in triadic activities if they occur spontaneously with humans and require a minimum amount of coordination. These findings leave open the question of whether these activities are coordinated through shared intentions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-255
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Bonobo
  • Chimpanzee
  • Shared intentionality
  • Social motivation
  • Triadic interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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