Chimps like to help others, study finds

2011-08-08 21:40

Washington - Female chimpanzees like to spontaneously help others rather than act selfishly, suggesting altruism may not be a uniquely human trait, US researchers said on Monday.

Scientists at the Yerkes National Primate Research Centre in the southeastern state of Georgia tested seven female chimpanzees to see if observations of the species' generous behavior in the field matched their decisions in a lab.

Given a choice of two coloured tokens, one which guaranteed a banana treat for two and the other which gave a reward for the chooser only, the chimps tended to pick the social option, said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous studies have suggested that chimps tend to act selfishly in so-called pro-social tests.

The researchers also found that chimps most often acted generously when the waiting partner reminded the chooser gently of her presence but did not act up or bully her into picking a treat for two.

"We were excited to find female after female chose the option that gave both her and her partner food," said lead author Victoria Horner.

"It was also interesting to me that being overly persistent did not go down well with the choosers. It was far more productive for partners to be calm and remind the choosers they were there from time to time," she said.

Researchers said they believe this study was more appropriately designed to judge chimps' behaviour than previous studies because it placed the waiting partner in view of the chooser and included a treat that was wrapped in a noisy package.

"I have always been skeptical of the previous negative findings and their over-interpretation," said co-author Frans de Waal.

"This study confirms the pro-social nature of chimpanzees with a different test, better adapted to the species," he said.

  • gatvol4corru - 2011-08-08 23:19

    Some lessons for our government no doubt

  • Saamprater - 2011-08-09 08:14

    Social option my a... They went for the most reward. These chimps are more clever than the so called scientists.

      CTScientist - 2011-08-09 11:09

      So called? Those intensive PhD schemes they sell at Universities must be a joke, eh? Well.. since you know everything.. I rate we can all pack up our bags and actually do some real work then?

  • Umfubi - 2011-08-09 10:21

    I am under the distinct impression that altruism in the animal world does not need to be proven, nor does it apply only to chimps. There are well-documented instances of, for example, elephants helping each other - there are always some 'assistants' present at the birth of a calf, and if an elephant falls, there are countless examples of others keeping close by and even helping the fallen one back up. Incidentally, elephants also demonstrate grief when one of their herd dies.

      Jo - 2011-08-09 11:02

      I completely agree. Animal Testing is inhumane and unnecessary, with the majority of tests producing pointless results like the above. I'm sure Jane Goodall could have told us this while observing animals in their natural environment. Yerkes National Primate Research Center has long been known for their terrible treatment of animals. If all these "studies" are proving that many animals have traits similar to humans, then surely we would understand animals would also not want to be locked up in tiny cages for their entire existence and experimented on. "When asked why we test on animals we say "because they're like us". When asked what makes it morally right we say "because they're not like us. Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction." -Professor Charles R. Magel

      CTScientist - 2011-08-09 11:20

      @ Umfubi: Altruism in the animal world has to be observed for a variety of reasons. Firstly, previous tests have tended to interpret results in such a way as to undermine altruism in other ape populations. Secondly, the implications for understanding the origin of our own anatomical and behavioural origins, as well as our hominin ancestors, is great. Also.. I think you will find that the examples you gave, of the elephants, are not altruistic in nature. What is the Elephant giving up to help the calf? Nothing. It could coincidentally merely be a herd obligation. @ Jo: These tests are not inhumane, nor are they unnecessary. The scientific community are bound by pretty strict ethical codes and there is no harm done to these chimps. And if the tests were entirely unnecessary - why are they performed? Also, the accusations against Yerkes are primarily driven by their biomedical research and thus falls out of the purvey of this article. While I agree that such research, if unethical, is wrong.. I do believe that no ethical research means that we cannot advance our understanding of our own evolutionary history. We cannot test humans because we are already a known constant and thus utterly worthless. We run these simple tests for a very good reason.

      Umfubi - 2011-08-09 18:24

      @Jo: even though you 'agree' with me, I fear a quantum leap in logic when I read your reply. There is a distinct difference between 'animal testing'as you portray it and ethical research. My response does not state or claim that research is a bad thing - it was intended to counter the apparent claim of these researchers to having 'discovered' altruism in animals. @Scientist: I totally get with what you say. My earlier response wasn't in the slightest intended to imply that such research is superfluous. The elephant example was merely the first (though possibly not the best) that came to mind - other instances have been reported of apparent animal altruism - this isn't really the place to go into detail. Of course such research has value - it's merely somewhat irritating to read about a constant stream of 'discoveries' in the media which have been misrepresented, quite possibly deliberately, for enhanced public appeal, or simply through lack of care and accuracy in reporting. Thus we hear on a daily basis of how drinking a ton of coffee guarantees that you won't get cancer, and eating Vit B by the shovelful means no Alzheimers, and a mere glance at a pizza is akin to suicide. But let me get off my soapbox... ;-)

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