Four chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, were individually trained to cooperate with a human partner on a task that allowed both participants to obtain food rewards. In each chimpanzee-human dyad, one of the participants (the informant) could see which pair of food trays on a four-choice apparatus was baited, but had no means of obtaining it. The other participant (the operator) could pull one of four handles to bring a pair of the trays within reach of both participants, but could not see which choice was correct. Two of the chimpanzees were initially trained as informants and adopted spontaneous gestures to indicate the location of the food. The two other chimpanzees were trained as operators and learned-to respond to the pointing of their human partner. After the chimpanzee subjects reached near perfect performance, the roles in each chimpanzee-human dyad were reversed. Three of the four chimpanzees showed immediate evidence of comprehension of their new social role. The results are discussed in the context of cognitive empathy and the potential for future research on social attribution in non-human primates.
Povinelli, D. J., Nelson, K. E., & Boysen, S. T. (1992). Comprehension of role reversal in chimpanzees: evidence of empathy?. Animal behaviour, 43(4), 633-640.