Empathy In Humans Derived From Chimps, Scientists Say
March 25, 2013

Empathy In Humans Derived From Chimps, Scientists Say

Our ability to sympathize and empathize with each other has been regarded by scientists at Warwick Business School as genealogic traits derived from the likes of our closest neighbor, the chimpanzee. Some aspects of human emotion are so basic that I often consider it pure blasphemy that some still haven’t caught on to it. Most of these emotions revolve around the concept of empathy, but can also be things like jealousy and malice.

Are we dignified as a species to tread around the Earth with our inalienable right to behave in such an ignorant and inconsiderate manner? As another human being, I dare say no.

Researchers at Warwick may actually agree with what I’m saying, as they have identified the chimpanzee’s ability to empathize and help each other as a defining trait of humans. Put simply, they believe that our tendency for teamwork is inherited from our hairy, poop-throwing cousins. To test this, they used a selection of chimpanzees in an experiment to test their goal-achieving abilities. They gave the chimps a box of grapes and a few tools to retrieve the grapes from the box.

The chimps were split into pairs and each pair was tasked with retrieving grapes from the plastic box. However, only one chimp was given both tools that were necessary in opening the box. They reported that ten out of the twelve chimps were successful in handing the right tool to their partner, effectively giving more evidence to both a collaborative and problem solving scenario.

What they found was that the chimpanzees immediately identified their own goals as comparable to each other’s, and thus moved to assist each other in obtaining the grapes.

According to them, this result represents a skill that humans and chimpanzees both share together. What is exactly is the skill? Bear with me; for humans, there is no identifying the skill because it comes so natural to us. But when we view the traits of primitive apes, we know immediately that it is empathy. What this means is that empathy is an active skill of the brain, and not an emotion, as we traditionally perceive it.

But overall, the activity proved that chimpanzees were capable of identifying each other’s predicament and working together on a collaborative task.

My question in this pertains to why they felt the need to test chimpanzees, out of all intelligent animals on the planet. Lions collaborate in their methods of hunting by flanking and ambushing unknowing prey, while dolphins, and even scorpions, use a similar form of teamwork to find food. I suppose the main goal here is to find the genetic connection between mankind and chimp-kind’s brain structure, especially since they are our closest relatives on the evolutionary chain.

Image Credit: LeonP / Shutterstock

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