Human-like altruism shown in chimpanzees

June 25, 2007

Debates about altruism are often based on the assumption that it is either unique to humans or else the human version differs from that of other animals in important ways. Thus, only humans are supposed to act on behalf of others, even toward genetically unrelated individuals, without personal gain, at a cost to themselves. Studies investigating such behaviors in nonhuman primates, especially our close relative the chimpanzee, form an important contribution to this debate.

This week in PLoS Biology, Felix Warneken and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology present experimental evidence that chimpanzees act altruistically toward genetically unrelated conspecifics.

In addition, in two comparative experiments, they found that both chimpanzees and human infants helped altruistically regardless of any expectation of reward, even when some effort was required, and even when the recipient was an unfamiliar individual—all features previously thought to be unique to humans.

The evolutionary roots of human altruism may thus go deeper than previously thought, reaching as far back as the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. In a related article, Frans de Waal discusses the issues brought out by this discovery.

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: What we can learn from primate personality

Related Stories

What we can learn from primate personality

June 18, 2015

Every human is different. Some are outgoing, while others are reserved and shy. Some are focused and diligent, while others are haphazard and unfussed. Some people are curious, others avoid novelty and enjoy their rut.

Caring and sharing is monkey business

January 20, 2015

Chimpanzees, much like children, can learn to be kind by observing and experiencing the kindness of others, according to new research by the University of St Andrews.

The roots of human altruism

August 27, 2014

Scientists have long been searching for the factor that determines why humans often behave so selflessly. It was known that humans share this tendency with species of small Latin American primates of the family Callitrichidae ...

Man's relationship with nature gone wrong, expert says

February 10, 2013

Jane Goodall greets the audience by imitating a chimpanzee, then launches into an hour-long talk on her relationship with apes and how, from being a primatologist, she became an activist to protect them.

'Trust' provides answer to handaxe enigma

November 21, 2012

Trust rather than lust is at the heart of the attention to detail and finely made form of handaxes from around 1.7 million years ago, according to a University of York researcher.

Humans naturally cooperative, altruistic, social

September 8, 2011

The condition of man is a condition of war, wrote 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes. A quick glance through history books and today's news headlines certainly seems to support the longstanding idea that humans by nature ...

Recommended for you

Interactive tool lifts veil on the cost of nuclear energy

August 24, 2015

Despite the ever-changing landscape of energy economics, subject to the influence of new technologies and geopolitics, a new tool promises to root discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence rather than ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.