Monkeys too display human-like empathy

Aug. 28, 2008

Washington, August 26: Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, US, have shown by experiments that monkeys have the feeling of empathy, and they enjoy sharing things with others.

Empathy in seeing the pleasure of another's fortune is thought to be the impetus for sharing, a trait this study shows transcends primate species.

For the experiment, Frans de Waal, director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Research Center, and Kristi Leimgruber, research specialist, led a team of researchers who exchanged tokens for food with eight adult female capuchin monkeys.

Each capuchin was paired with a relative, an unrelated familiar female from her own social group or a stranger (a female from a different group).

The capuchins were then given the choice of two tokens: the selfish option, which rewarded that capuchin alone with an apple slice; or the pro-social option, which rewarded both capuchins with an apple slice.

The monkeys predominantly selected the pro-social token when paired with a relative or familiar individual, but not when paired with a stranger.

According to de Waal, “The fact the capuchins predominantly selected the prosocial option must mean seeing another monkey receive food is satisfying or rewarding for them.”

“We believe prosocial behavior is empathy based. Empathy increases in both humans and animals with social closeness, and in our study, closer partners made more prosocial choices. They seem to care for the welfare of those they know,” he added.

de Waal and his research team will next attempt to determine whether giving is self-rewarding to capuchins because they can eat together or if the monkeys simply like to see the other monkey enjoying food. (ANI)

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