A hand pulls a orange rope through a tube. Shadows in the background look like another person is doing the same thing from far away
Written by: 
Amy Peterson
Illustrated by: 
James Baxter

show/hide words to know

Cooperation: when two or more individuals work together to a common goal.

Neanderthal: An extinct hominin species that was closely related to humans; Neanderthals occupied regions of Europe and the Middle East and went extinct about 35,000 years ago.

Before you begin

Our relatively big brains allow people to work together to accomplish tasks that benefit everyone.

Even very young human children can learn simple games such as working together to pull a board. They can also figure out a fair way to share the rewards from cooperating.

This activity may seem simple, but humans are the only animals with the ability and desire to work together and negotiate a fair deal in this way. With effort, other primates can learn to work together to pull the board toward themselves. But, they have a difficult time sharing the rewards, which puts future chances for cooperation at risk.

Why do you think it is important for people to cooperate? Could cooperation have helped humans in the past?

What you will need

  • Rope and board apparatus (see instructor instructions)
  • Supply of small rewards
  • Videos of children and primates attempting the challenge (optional)
  • Instruction packet [PDF]


  1. Each person pulls one side of the apparatus toward themFind a partner and stand in front of the apparatus. Each of you pulls one end of the cord. Work together to bring the board to the other end of the box.
  2. Collect the prizes from the cups on the board.
  3. Now, run the experiment again, with prizes in different cups.

Learn more

It’s not just our brains that give us an advantage—it’s our social nature. Scientists think humans evolved to be social, and society and culture evolved from human nature.

Our big brains enabled us to live in complex social groups, a trend that has continued through many millions of years of primate evolution. While other animals live in social groups, only humans have developed such variety in our social structures and in our culture.

Our big brains enabled us to live in complex social groups, a trend that has continued through many millions of years of primate evolution. While other animals live in social groups, only humans have developed such variety in social structures and culture. Fossil evidence shows that our ancestors cared for the sick and elderly members of their groups. For example, there are several fossils of Neanderthals that show evidence of old injuries that healed, which means that those injured Neanderthals may have been helped by their group members.

Read more about human cooperation here: https://askananthropologist.asu.edu/stories/theres-no-i-human

View Citation

You may need to edit author's name to meet the style formats, which are in most cases "Last name, First name."

Bibliographic Details

  • Article: Pull it off
  • Author(s): Amy Peterson
  • Publisher: Arizona State University Institute of Human Origins Ask An Anthropologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask An Anthropologist
  • Date published: February 6, 2019
  • Date modified: September 14, 2020
  • Date accessed: December 03, 2023
  • Link: https://askananthropologist.asu.edu/experiments/pull-it

APA Style

Amy Peterson. (2019, Feb 06). Pull it off. Retrieved December 03, 2023, from https://askananthropologist.asu.edu/experiments/pull-it

American Psychological Association, 6th ed., 2nd printing, 2009.
For more info, see the APA citation guide.

Chicago Manual of Style

Amy Peterson. "Pull it off." ASU - Ask An Anthropologist. Published February 6, 2019. Last modified September 14, 2020. https://askananthropologist.asu.edu/experiments/pull-it.

Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., 2017.
For more info, see the Chicago Manual citation guide.

MLA Style

Amy Peterson. Pull it off. ASU - Ask An Anthropologist. February 6, 2019, askananthropologist.asu.edu/experiments/pull-it. Accessed 2023 December 03.

Modern Language Association, 8th ed., 2016.
For more info, see the MLA citation guide.

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