New research has shown that there really are policemen in rainforests – and they’re chimpanzees.
They may not wear helmets and carry handcuffs, but chimpanzees engage in impartial ‘policing’ of conflict, according to anthropologists from the University of Zurich, led by Professor Carel van Schaik and Claudia Rudolf von Rohr.
They reveal that chimpanzees mediate conflicts between other group members not for their own direct benefit, but to preserve the peace within the group.
'Ello, 'ello, 'ello: Chimpanzees deploy policemen to keep the peace, according to a new study
The authors suggest that this behaviour can be regarded as an early evolutionary form of morality.
Until now, this morally motivated behaviour in chimpanzees was only ever documented anecdotally.
However, the new study now confirms that chimpanzees intervene impartially in a conflict to guarantee the stability of their group, exhibiting prosocial behaviour based on an interest in community concern.
This policing activity was rare and generally limited to high-ranking individuals.
Hierarchy: It's the high-ranking chimps that intervene as jungle coppers
The researchers also found that the arbiters were more willing to intervene impartially if several quarrellers were involved in a dispute, probably because such conflicts are more likely to jeopardise group peace.
‘The interest in community concern that is highly developed in us humans and forms the basis for our moral behaviour is deeply rooted. It can also be observed in our closest relatives,’ concludes Rudolf von Rohr.