How Human are Chimps? Chimpanzees Use Conflict Management Techniques


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Are Chimpanzees the Only Animals With Police?

Are chimpanzees the only species, other than humans, which engage in policing behaviors? This question was posed to Professor van Schaik, who responded:

Policing has been described for various species, but in most cases involves aggression rather than neutral interventions separating the contestants. So, there is overlap, but this pattern in chimps may be unique.

During the course of this research, scientists examined certain behaviors, and classified some types as “policing behaviors,” or behaviors that maintained a peaceful atmosphere in the group.

We focused on these peaceful interventions, because it is so hard to interpret aggressive interventions. They may reflect punishment, but may just as likely serve the political interests of the interveners. That does not mean they don’t occur: coalitionary interactions are much more common than these neutral interventions.

Peaceful intervention amongst chimpanzees parallels interventions in human beings. Court proceedings are extremely formal and structured, for example. Police officers, also known as peace officers, discuss situations with parties in a disagreement to disarm the situation. Parents break squabbling children up, and put them in separate rooms. These peaceful behaviors are strikingly similar to those found in Professor von Schaik’s research.

Science shows that chimpanzees are closer to humans than previously believed: Photo by user:snowyowls

Understanding the Animal Kingdom

As researchers continue to look into the animal kingdom, new findings change our understanding of the abilities and behaviors of both animals and humans. Chimpanzees have been discovered using crude tools to find and hunt food, and have now been found engaging in conflict resolution; perhaps our closest genetic relatives are proving to be more like humans than originally believed.


von Rohr, C.R., Koski, S., Burkart, J., Caws, C., Fraser, O., Ziltener, A. & van Schaik, C. Impartial Third-Party Interventions in Captive Chimpanzees: A Reflection of Community Concern. (2012). PLoS One. Accessed March 18, 2012.

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