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Intentionality and social evaluation in chimpanzees

Photo: Esther Herrmann

Imagine someone pushes you and your coffee drops to the floor. Will you blame the person? The answer probably depends on the intentionality of the pusher: did he/she push you intentionally? That is, did she/he want to push you so that you spill your coffee? In this case, the answer is a clearly yes, you will hold the person responsible. But what if the person was pushed in turn and accidentally bumped into you? Here you will probably refrain from blaming the pusher. In a recent study we investigated the evolutionary roots of such intentionality-based blame. Specifically, we asked whether chimpanzees evaluate freely-chosen actions differently from forced actions. We found that they indeed do! Chimpanzees were more likely to protest when a human experimenter engaged in a freely chosen action that violated their interests compared to a situation in which the human experimenter did not have a different option. This study suggests that chimpanzees share one of the central features of human moral cognition: they consider mental states as relevant for moral evaluation.

Project leaders

Jan Engelmann Contact Profile

Marina Proft +49 551 39-9288 Contact Profile

Hannes Rakoczy

Hannes Rakoczy +49-551 39-9235 Contact Profile

Stefanie Keupp +49 551 3851-211 Contact Profile

Contributing research groups

Developmental Psychology

Cognitive Ethology