European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

Ontogenetic and Phylogenetic Roots of Strategic Help-seeking

Project description

What makes us decide who to ask for help?

What goes through our minds when we ask for help? How do we decide who to turn to? While insight into the helper has often been sought by scientists, there has been very little research on the person being helped. The EU-funded HelpSeeking project will focus on this little-studied aspect and explore the development and evolution of human strategic help-seeking with human children and chimpanzees. It will investigate whether the help-seeker’s decision is influenced by any physical effort or material sacrifice the helper will have to make, or by a relationship of friendship or dominance between helper and help-seeker. The project will be the first to provide insight into the evolutionary and developmental roots of strategic help-seeking.


Human altruistic helping has deep evolutionary and developmental roots: Both human children and our closest non-human relatives - chimpanzees - often pay a cost to benefit another individual. Previous research on helping has nearly exclusively focused on the helper, i.e. the individual providing the help. However, helping also involves someone who is being helped. A helpee is not just a passive recipient of help, but someone who can actively and flexibly increase the chances of being helped, for example by being strategic in whom to ask for help. When determining who is willing to help, two questions are of particular relevance: (a) How costly is it for the potential helper to help? (b) What is my relationship with the potential helper? Considering the costs of and one’s relationship to potential helpers is crucial when soliciting help. Although it can significantly improve an individual's fitness, it has never been studied systematically when it evolved in our evolution and how it develops over ontogeny. Thus, unraveling the phylogenetic and ontogenetic roots of human’s strategic help-seeking is the objective of the proposed project. Therefore, I would like to conduct two interdisciplinary projects with human children and chimpanzees. In Project 1, I will investigate whether considering the costs of potential helpers for providing help influences the decision whom to ask for help, with costs operationalised either as physical effort (Study 1) or material sacrifice (Study 2). In Project 2, I will study the effects of social relations to the potential helpers on the help-seeking desision, considering in particular friendship (Study 3) and dominance (Study 4). Using an innovative approach – combining observations of naturally occurring behaviors and carefully controlled experiments – this project will be the first to provide insight into the evolutionary and developmental roots of strategic help-seeking.

Fields of science


Net EU contribution
€ 246 669,12
37077 Gottingen

See on map

Niedersachsen Braunschweig Göttingen
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 246 669,12

Partners (1)