Why Chimpanzees Cooperate and We Should Too

We already knew that unrelated chimpanzees cooperated with each other outside of sexual relationships, but thanks to new research we now know why, and this exciting revelation doesn’t just help us to learn more about social bonding in animals, but also in ourselves.

The study, which was published in the journal of Proceedings of the Royal Society B, discovered that cooperation between non-kin chimps could be attributed to increased levels of the hormone oxytocin.

International researchers working with a group of wild chimps in Uganda tested the urine to measure the oxytocin levels after a grooming session. Regardless of whether the chimpanzee was engaging with a relative, higher levels were found in the urine of those who had been grooming a ‘bond partner’ than with a ‘non-bond partner.’

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone well known for its critical role in mother-baby and pair bonding, but not much has been proven about its implications in a non-kin or non-sexual context.

Just like with human beings, animals have friendships with individuals who they have absolutely no relation to and the maintaining of these cooperative relationships yield numerous benefits, including better survival rates and increased longevity.

Up until recently it was believed that tactile stimulation alone was enough to generate oxytocin, but grooming events that occurred between ‘non-bond partners’ recorded no rise in levels, clearly demonstrating that more is needed. Aside from the physical, there needs to be a psychological aspect. The relationship itself coupled with the quality of the relationship is paramount.

So how are these bonds created? Chimpanzees cooperate by food sharing, collaborative grooming and hunting among other activities, and in turn they become deeply and socially bonded, allowing them to reap the benefits of oxytocin when engaging in future interactions.

Although many of us do actively work on cooperative and collaborative projects with each other, many more of us choose to neglect this crucial and integral building block and in doing so we miss out on all of the positive aspects, and it is these aspects that could lead us towards a more sustainable and peaceful society.

They key is to spread the love. Not just with our partners, family and friends, but also with people that we hardly know, because the more loving we are in our every day life, the healthier and happier we will be. Shared moments of cooperation have the potential to heal the world, from lowering our risk of disease to influencing the ways our cells regenerate.

A simple way to enjoy the perks of bonding is the concept of micromoments. Just because a connection is short lived doesn’t mean that it’s worthless. Positive feelings, even if they are brought about by fleeting encounters, squash negative emotions and set us up for a healthier lifestyle.

You don’t need to be in a romantic relationship or even live near family or friends to get the benefits of love. All you need to do is get out there and be more social, whether it’s through conversation or eye contact. These seemingly trivial interactions are just as important to our well-being as eating healthy and exercising.

Photo Credit: Nigel's Europe


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

very interesting, thanks for sharing :)

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago


Latonya W.
Latonya W4 years ago


Kate S.
Kate S4 years ago

TYVM. I enjoy articles like this.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M.4 years ago

Don't over-romanticize a creature who can tear your face off at the drop of a hat. Chimps cooperate with other chimps, but they are also brutal to other chimps.

Aud Nordby
Aud n4 years ago


Edward Wilkes
4 years ago


Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman4 years ago

I wonder what the levels of of oxytocin are in people subjected to solitary confinement. From what I've read here, it seems that solitary confinement is indeed a very cruel punishment.

Lyn Romaine
Lynelle Romaine4 years ago

Hm. Interesting.