One Good Turn...

Yesterday’s post was about cooperation, but there is another form of working together in a social situation that is based on social interaction as opposed to cooperation. For example, we teach our children early on to “play nice” and to take turns.  We accept this behavior as good manners when we get older.

Politely waiting for your turn may appear to be the case when we see young lions waiting for the alpha male to eat his fill, but this is different, it is fear of the consequences of challenging the ‘old man’ and has nothing to do with politely taking turns.

So the question arises are humans the only species with good manners – at least sometimes? Falcone et al from Sapienza U has answered this question for us as they just happened to have a couple of Macaques on hand and a couple of humans with time on theirs. They published their findings in this week’s PLoSone (1).

The Macaques had the usual computer screen beloved of experimentalists in front of them. The job they had to do was to press a white spot and hold it as a gray bar appeared flanked by a red dot and either a cross or a blue dot. Once the gray bar vanished they had to hit the cross or the blue dot to complete the cycle. Being immune to praise, the Macaques were rewarded with a few drops of a syrupy liquid.

By changing the cross for an occasional blue dot, the Macaques had to stay sharp, but now came the real tests. They had a human in to play too. The different color dots and crosses came up in random order and each task had to be different from the previous one. There wasn’t a lot of time to think about it of course so macaque and human had to stay sharp.

Periodically the human would stick his hand in to take a turn, or maybe two or even three or four turns, and then stop to let the Macaque back into the game. With a very high success rate the monkeys continued the sequence and didn’t repeat the last button hit.

 The Macaques had clearly picked up the idea of the game and were very polite about playing. If the human hand moved towards the screen, they waited their turn, but immediately resumed when the fickle finger was pulled back – no fuss, no bother.

At first they got their sticky treat as long as the task was successful. No bad words were uttered if the human got it wrong. To make it challenging, another round was played where if the human played, the monkey got nothing. Again, no squabbling, no pushing “me first, me, me, me,” But just good manners waiting their turn. Clearly, manners maketh the macaque!

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