Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Open Peer Commentary

A cross-species perspective on the selfishness axiom

Sarah F. Brosnan a1a3 and Frans B. M. de Waal a2a3
a1 Department of Anthropology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322
a2 Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322
a3 Living Links, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Atlanta, GA 30329


Henrich et al. describe an innovative research program investigating cross-cultural differences in the selfishness axiom (in economic games) in humans, yet humans are not the only species to show such variation. Chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys show signs of deviating from the standard self-interest paradigm in experimental settings by refusing to take foods that are less valuable than those earned by conspecifics, indicating that they, too, may pay attention to relative gains. However, it is less clear whether these species also show the other-regarding preferences seen in humans.