Friday, July 6, 2007

Ape altruism

A new study supports the theory that chipms can be altruistic just like people. Children as young as 18 months-old also seem to help adults, even strangers, without any immediate benefit to themselves. According to psychologist Felix Warneken of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, altruism goes back as far as 6 million years ago when to the common ancestor we share with chimps. IN a paper published in the journal Public Library of Science Biology, the Warneken and his colleagues posit that humans and chimps are predisposed to be Good Samaritans. From Science News:

His team conducted three experiments with adult chimps living on an island sanctuary in Uganda and two experiments with 18-month-old German children. In the chimp version of the first experiment, 36 animals watched one at a time from a barred enclosure as an experimenter in an adjacent room—who had had virtually no prior contacts with the animals—reached through the bars for a stick on the other side. The stick was within reach of only the observing chimp.

Most chimps snatched the stick and gave it to the experimenter, whether or not the experimenter offered a piece of banana as a reward. No assistance came if the experimenter didn't first reach in vain for the stick.

A similar trial with 36 youngsters yielded comparable altruistic behavior, regardless of whether the experimenter offered toys as a reward.

Link to Science News, Link to PLoS Biology

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