Earth Science News  





. Evidence For Altruistic Behaviours In Human Infants And Chimpanzees

File Photo
by Staff Writers
Munich, Germany (SPX) Mar 03, 2006
Human infants at 18 month of age helped spontaneously in several of the tasks. Also, chimpanzees displayed similar helping behaviours, although only in easier tasks. These new findings show that rudimentary forms of altruistic behaviours are present in our closest evolutionary relatives.

As recent findings by other researchers from the same institute show, these seem to be restricted to particular situations. Felix Warneken and Mike Tomasello found that children as young as 18 months willingly helped complete strangers. 'The results were astonishing because these children are so young - they still wear diapers and are barely able to use language,' says Warneken. 'But they already show helping behaviour.'

Warneken performed various tasks like hanging clothes on a line, and would drop a clothes peg out of his reach. For the first 10 seconds he reached for the peg. In the next 10 seconds he also looked at the child. After 20 seconds he said 'my peg!'. But he never directly asked the child for help, and did not thank or reward the child if the peg was retrieved. Virtually all children helped at least once in these situations and in 84% of cases they helped during the first 10 seconds, before Warneken even made eye contact.

'The children didn't fetch the peg automatically because in another part of the test I threw it on the ground deliberately and they didn't pick it up. They only gave it to me if they inferred that I needed the peg to complete my goal, in this case, hanging up the clothes.'

In case picking up clothes pegs was something the children had experienced before, Warneken invented new and more complicated situations. One was a box with a flap to retrieve objects inside the box. Warneken accidentally dropped a spoon inside and pretended he didn't know about the flap. Again, the children only helped Warneken retrieve the spoon if he was struggling to get it, as opposed to when Warneken threw the spoon inside deliberately.

Going to some effort to help someone, without any benefit to yourself, is called altruism. So far, only humans are proven altruists. We donate money to charity, we pay taxes and we help people we don't know. But never before has this ability been shown in children who are so young who haven't yet developed much in the way of language skills. The study shows that even infants without much socialization are willing and able to help spontaneously.

But is helping unique to humans? A recent study by Jensen and colleagues [1] shows that chimpanzees only care about themselves when the goal is to retrieve food. However, chimpanzees might help in situations other than foraging. Therefore, Warneken conducted the same helping tasks also with human-raised chimpanzees. Although the chimpanzees didn't help in the more complex tasks, like the box experiment, they did help when their human caretaker was reaching for something.

'This is the first experiment showing altruistic helping toward goals in any non human primate,' says Warneken. 'It's been claimed chimpanzees act mainly for their own ends, but in our experiment, there was no reward and they still helped.'

Altruism in chimpanzees may mean our common ancestor already had rudimentary forms of helping behaviour before chimpanzees and humans split six million years ago.

'People thought helping behaviour was unique to humans, but maybe chimps aren't as different as we thought,' says Warneken with a smile. 'Perhaps there was a tiny bit of altruism in our evolutionary ancestor and it's grown so much stronger in modern humans.'

Related Links
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Role Of Showoff Hypothesis In Social Decisions Investigated
Chicago IL (SPX) Mar 02, 2006
A new study of the Hadza population in Tanzania, forthcoming in the April 2006 issue of Current Anthropology, explores the role of hunting in human evolution. Among chimpanzees and most human populations that subsist on wild resources, hunting is a predominantly male activity, and researchers have long tried to locate the advantage that hunting, a dangerous and tiring activity, brings to men.

.
Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
  



  • Study Finds Californians Unmotivated To Prepare For Next Disaster
  • The Future Of Foreign Assistance
  • High Post-Hurricane Rents Push People Out Of New Orleans
  • White House Demands Whirlwind Changes To Hurricane Response

  • IODP Scientists Acquire 'Treasure Trove' Of Climate Records Off Tahiti Coast
  • Massive Ancient Flood Linked To Climate Change
  • Fossil Wood Gives Vital Clues To Ancient Climates
  • NASA Under Pressure To Ensure Researcher Independence

  • ESA Satellite Program Monitors Dangerous Ocean Eddies
  • Envisat Marks Fours Year In ESA Mission To Planet Earth
  • Boeing To Process Radar Data From Endeavour
  • NASA Awards Ocean Color Research Support Services Contract

  • Portugal Gets Four Bids In Wind Farm Tender
  • Think Solar Not Nuclear For The Energy Of The Future
  • Managing Coal Combustion Residues In Mines
  • Running A French Farm On Rapeseed Oil And Manure

  • Crippling Indian Ocean Epidemic Detected in France
  • People of African Descent More Vulnerable to TB
  • Americans Downplay Widespread Outbreak Of Avian Flu In Next Year
  • Learning To Love Bacteria

  • Reducing Conflict Between Humans And Carnivores
  • Amber Reveals Ecology Of 30 Million Year Old Spiders
  • Sex: Why Bother? Evolutionary Mysteries Probed At UH
  • Ecosystem In Suspended Animation

  • Czechs, Slovaks Agree To Cooperate Against German Waste Dumping
  • Megacity Pollution Scrutinized During Mexico City Field Campaign
  • Suez Tanker Spill Damage At 12 Million Dollars
  • China Ranks Among World's Most Wasteful Users Of Resources

  • Evidence For Altruistic Behaviours In Human Infants And Chimpanzees
  • Role Of 'Showoff Hypothesis' In Social Decisions Investigated
  • Study Of Dinosaurs Part Of Pitt's Plan To Graduate Better Doctors
  • The Evolution Of Right And Left Handedness

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2006 - SpaceDaily.AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA PortalReports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additionalcopyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement