New Study Shows that Chimpanzees Share Experiences

Researchers witness fascinating social interaction.


Wildlife, Study

(Patrick Rolands /

It has long been known that humans and chimps share some key behavioral traits; now it appears that they share one more. A new study conducted by researchers at York and Warwick Universities claims that chimpanzees have been observed sharing an experience just for the sake of it. This is a behavior that was previously thought to have only been exhibited in humans.

For most people showing someone else something you find interesting is something you do almost every day. Humans love to share experiences with other people: hey, look at that flower, we say, or I really liked this piece of music and I think you would too. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that according to the new study, apparently our chimpanzee cousins like to share things as well.

Between Mother and Child
According to CNN, the sharing behavior was observed between a mother and her daughter, Sutherland and Fiona, respectively, who are a part of the Ngono chimpanzee community in Kibale National Park, Uganda. These chimps were under non-invasive observation as part of a separate project when the researchers witnessed an interaction between the mother and child that surprised them.

The two chimps were engaged in what is called “leaf grooming” in which a chimpanzee will take a leaf, lick it, and play with it. It is still unclear why this behavior exists among chimps. Whatever the case, the mother and daughter were sitting next to each other, each leaf grooming on their own, when Fiona picked up a leaf and showed it to her mother. 

Critically, she didn’t seem to want her mom to do anything with the leaf. … She seems to be showing it just for the sake of showing it. It’s like, ‘look, look, this is cool, isn’t it?’ And that is very humanlike and something that we thought was fairly unique to our species,” Dr. Katie Slocombe, a Professor of Psychology at the University of York, and co-author of the paper, told CNN. This was not behavior the researchers had seen exhibited by a chimpanzee before.

Sharing experiences
Once the researchers had observed the behavior they needed to figure out why Fiona did what she did. In order to do so, according to IFL Science, they looked at 84 other instances of leaf grooming and other similar behaviors, such as playing. They came to the conclusion that the act was what it seemed: Fiona was showing her mother a leaf because she wanted to share the experience of the leaf with her mother. 

The goal now for the researchers is to try and see if they can find this behavior in other chimpanzees, and in doing so, try and understand why humans get so much pleasure from sharing things with other humans. 

“Our observations raise new questions about why humans share experiences more often than our closest living relatives and whether engaging in this behavior at a higher frequency than other species can still explain the evolution of cognitive functions underpinning human social behavior,” Prof. Slocombe told IFL Science.

Even though it is still as of yet unclear as to why exactly Fiona the Chimp showed her mother the leaf, there is something very joyful in the idea that the pleasure we as humans get from sharing things with one another is something that is so deeply encoded in our genes that we share it with our closest genetic relatives.

This Inspiring New Doll Comes With its Own Chimpanzee and a Mission
10 Fun Facts about Animals to Make You Smile
Who Is Behind the $2 Million Donation to Give Lab Chimps a New Home?