Skip to main content

Game Theory in Bonobo Communities

In a groundbreaking study of bonobos (Pan paniscus), scientists have discovered that bonobos not only hunt for their meat, but also share their meat amongst neighboring primate communities. It was previously confirmed that bonobos did indeed share meat amongst their own social groups, but in this new study of bonobos in a forest area near Bompusa River further confirms that bonobos share their meat across community borders. “Cooperative behaviors such as hunting and food sharing play an important role in constructing models of human origins”, states Doctor Hohmann. It sees that just as humans share food amongst themselves for mutual benefit, so too do bonobos. It seems that in addition to sharing food amongst with one another, the bonobos also groomed one another.

The beneficiary sharing of food amongst bonobos can be modeled by game theory. When a bonobo encounters another group while hunting, he has two options, to either cooperate with the other bonobo or be aggressive towards the other bonobo in hopes of getting all of the food for his own tribe. We denote obtaining the meat of a kill as having +1 beneficiary points. However, sharing food with the neighboring bonobo tribe reduces the beneficiary points to 0.5, since each respective bonobo tribe only obtains half of the meat. But an added incentive for cooperating with another group is that the bonobo can be groomed afterwards, we denote this as also having a +1 beneficiary points. When both bonobo tribes behave aggressively towards one another, both bonobo tribes end up either scaring away the prey or in the worst case get into a fight with one another, causing casualties, thus we denote this combination as having -1 beneficiary points for both bonobo tribes. Below is our modeled game board.

As we can see, for both bonobo tribes, while behaving aggressively can at max net them 1 beneficiary points, behaving cooperatively assuming the other bonobo tribe behaves cooperatively can net the bonobo tribes 1.5 beneficiary points. Thus, the mutual behavior of sharing meat has enabled our bonobo tribes to reach a Nash Equilibrium of Cooperative, Cooperative.  

The article suggests that the act of sharing amongst the bonobos models how our ancestors may have divided food amongst themselves. It is clear that acting cooperatively benefits both parties positively. But beyond the temporary benefits of acting cooperatively, acting cooperatively also creates future opportunities. Take for example, during a period of luxury for one group of bonobos and a period of famine for another, the act of sharing the starving group to survive, and in the future possibly help the luxurious group. Having an already positive relationship between the two groups thus further benefits both bonobo groups. The article concludes by heavily implying that this act of cooperation was of major benefit to the triumph of the human race.



Leave a Reply

Blogging Calendar

September 2018