The Evolutionary Roots of Human Collaborative Problem-Solving: Insights from Chimpanzees​

  • TWCF Number:


  • Project Duration:

    December 28, 2017 - August 31, 2019

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

  • Priority:

    Diverse Intelligences

  • Region:


  • Amount Awarded:


Director: Alicia P. Melis

Institution: The University of Warwick

Intelligence can be defined as the level of mental or behavioral flexibility resulting in novel solutions to physical and social problems. This project will examine chimpanzees’ intelligence in solving a task requiring communication to ensure coordination and successful collaboration. In doing so, it aims to investigate the roots of human collaborative problem-solving.

Despite evidence of chimpanzees’ collaborative abilities, we know little about the socio-cognitive (i.e., theory of mind) skills that support this behavior. Moreover, several hypotheses have argued that chimpanzees lack flexible cognitive skills to engage in collaborative endeavors. Similarly, despite extensive research on chimpanzees’ communicative behavior, we know almost nothing about their ability to use communication as a means to support collaborative endeavors. This research project will investigate chimpanzees’ capacity to provide collaboration partners with the information they lack to perform their role in a mutually beneficial task, addressing both:

(1) Their reasoning skills and ability to think about their partners’ informational needs, and

(2) the flexibility of their communicative skills.

We will conduct the study at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, where previous behavioral studies have been successful. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the project, the results will engage academics interested both in human social and cognitive evolution, as well as in cooperation, coordination, and communication. The project will lead to at least two peer-reviewed publications, conference talks, publicly-shared datasets and educational materials (e.g., study videos). We will also organize a symposium at Warwick University to discuss the findings with other experts in the field. The results of the project will be shared with the general public in the form of public talks, media, social media and a project-specific website.


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