Altruism in Chimps

It has come up many times in our class discussions about the way humans think and feel, and if we put those emotions on other animals. We seem to believe that we have more links to each other, and therefore our qualities or altruism, morals, and values are purely human qualities. Interestingly enough, I was browsing National Geographic when I found this article about chimps. Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute did a study with 12 mother/offspring pairs of chimps. All chimps were trained to use to sticks to draw straws out of reach towards them, and then use the straws to drink juice. However, chimps were not trained to share sticks, straws, or converse with each other in any way. Regardless of this, they found that 59% the chimps passed either the stick or the straw to another chimp even though both chimps did not benefit from the action. Furthermore, it was found that when a chimp made some sort of request for either a stick or a straw, the chimp with the item in question passed it off 75% of the time.

Does this mean that chimps regard each other and feel empathy for each other in the same way humans do? Not for sure, but I do think it’s naive to believe we are the only species that can do that. I think this begins to show us that maybe there is an evolutionary reason behind empathy, or if there isn’t, we aren’t the only species that has strayed from the path of evolution. In some of our arguments of separating humans from the rest of animals and nature, we argue that we have progressed so far because we have the most complicated minds. When we look at examples of animal behavior, we want to assign empathy to them, and we begin to feel empathy for them when we look at endangered species, but we don’t believe that they may have the same thoughts as us. I don’t think this article proves anything on whether other species do or do not feel empathy, but I think it begins to question the logic that we are the only ones who live beyond just survival instincts.

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