Power in Numbers: Chimps Utilize Teamwork for Solving Number Problems

Scientists discover that chimpanzees utilize teamwork and cognitive perspective-taking (the ability to imagine themselves in their teammate’s position), to help solve numerical problems.


Chimpanzees shown spontaneously ‘taking turns’ to solve number puzzle

A new study from Kyoto and Oxford universities and Indianapolis Zoo has shown chimpanzees spontaneously taking turns to complete a number sequencing task.

Previous studies have shown chimps working together in strictly alternating turn-taking scenarios. However, these results are the first to demonstrate that chimpanzees can cope with more complex permutations of turn-taking, with no external cues to help time their behaviour.

The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, gives important insights into the evolution of turn-taking, which underlies a range of social interactions, including communication and language.


“Our research examined the abilities of our closest evolutionary relatives, chimpanzees, to coordinate their behavior while completing a computerized puzzle in stages. We showed that extended bouts of turn-taking emerged spontaneously in the subjects, enabling them to solve the complex coordination problem effectively…

Besides turn-taking, our task may also provide insights into abilities for cognitive perspective-taking — in other words, the capacity to improve coordination by mentally putting yourself in someone else’s place. Brain studies have shown that this is a skill that musicians use while performing duets that require them to take turns. Whether our chimpanzee subjects made use of such perspective-taking capacities during solving the numerical turn-taking task is an interesting open question for future research.”

-Dr. Dora Biro, researcher, study co-author


Journal Reference:  Christopher Flynn Martin, Dora Biro, Tetsuro Matsuzawa. Chimpanzees spontaneously take turns in a shared serial ordering task. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-14393-x