Monday, June 25, 2007

Human vs. Chimp Cooperation

Via Razib at GNXP, a new paper has come out in PLoS Biology that compares helping ("altruistic") behavior in chimpanzees to altruistic behavior in humans. A paper that came out in Science last year by the same authors showed that human infants were more likely to help out a human who needed help than chimpanzees (that had been reared by and around humans). The purpose of this research is to demonstrate how the extensive cooperation seen in humans (only rivaled by social insects and maybe a few others) is hard-wired. The previous paper in Science shows that human infants were quite a bit more helping than chimpanzees. This new one shows that chimps actually are as helpful as young children. It seems like the difference between this and the previous study is that they changed the experiment around and, this time, they found that chimps were as helpful as humans, and not less.
I think that this is an interesting line of research, mostly because it is done with very young humans - to try to demonstrate the more hard-wired nature of human cooperation. I wonder what the results would look like if the chimps and humans were matched in age.

Spontaneous Altruism by Chimpanzees and Young Children

Felix Warneken, Brian Hare, Alicia P. Melis, Daniel Hanus, Michael Tomasello

PLoS Biology, online before print

Abstract: People often act on behalf of others. They do so without immediate personal gain, at cost to themselves, and even toward unfamiliar individuals. Many researchers have claimed that such altruism emanates from a species-unique psychology not found in humans' closest living evolutionary relatives, such as the chimpanzee. In favor of this view, the few experimental studies on altruism in chimpanzees have produced mostly negative results. In contrast, we report experimental evidence that chimpanzees perform basic forms of helping in the absence of rewards spontaneously and repeatedly toward humans and conspecifics. In two comparative studies, semi–free ranging chimpanzees helped an unfamiliar human to the same degree as did human infants, irrespective of being rewarded (experiment 1) or whether the helping was costly (experiment 2). In a third study, chimpanzees helped an unrelated conspecific gain access to food in a novel situation that required subjects to use a newly acquired skill on behalf of another individual. These results indicate that chimpanzees share crucial aspects of altruism with humans, suggesting that the roots of human altruism may go deeper than previous experimental evidence suggested.

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