Empathetic Apes Comfort Each Other Like Humans Says Study

Empathy Apes Comfort

A recent study has found that young apes who have been orphaned tend to be less empathetic than those being raised by their mothers.  In the study, the young bonobos have been found to be more “socially competent” and tend to cuddle and calm fellow apes who are in distress.

Research scientists working with the young apes at an African sanctuary have found that the bonobos who recovered rapidly from a trying experience, such as an altercation, are more likely to comfort their fellow apes. The findings are found to mirror similar studies in young children and suggest that apes tend to manage their emotion similarly.

Bonobos are well-known peace lovers.  They are sweet, loving creatures who tend to shun violence.  And unlike their relative, the chimpanzee, the females are the ones who hold the power.  All bonobos seek out and respond to physical affection.

Professor Frans de Waal of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta is claiming that the research is showing the apes’ ability to console one another shows true empathy.  The mere act of measuring the distress and sexual arousal in apes and how they cope with it allowed the researchers to confirm that emotional regulation is an important part of empathy.  The researchers explained: “It’s almost as if one first needs to have one’s own emotional house in order before one is ready to visit the emotional house of another. This is true for children, and apparently also for bonobos.”

The study was held at the Olola ya Bonoboo sanctuary, near Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The sanctuary was able to provide a natural setting in order to better study the emotional behavior of the orphaned bonobos.  The sanctuary happens to be a refuge for many bonobos, who were victims of African bushmeat huntings. Dr. Zanna Clay, a colleague of Professor de Waal, also from Emory University, lead the research and gathered footage of the bonobos’ interactions.

Over 370 post-distress interactions were observed; some 318 cause by fighting and 55 that were caused by throwing tantrums.  Researchers discovered that the better a bonobo handled his or her emotions, the greater the likelihood was that they were more apt to offer aid and comfort to a friend in need.  The scientists reported that a similar pattern is often seen in human behavior.

The study also showed that the orphaned apes were playing half as much as their fellow apes who still had moms.  They also had a third less friends and only initiated play half as much.  Furthermore, the orphans were found to be less likely to console a fellow distressed bonobo.  Most likely this is because seeing another ape in distress caused too much anxiety.

A news study says that apes comfort each other just like humans. The results of the research seem to mirror our own empathetic tendencies and how we develop our emotional and social skills in order to deal with one another  It is comforting to know that we all exhibit ape-like behavior at times.

By: Mary Kay Love

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7 Responses to "Empathetic Apes Comfort Each Other Like Humans Says Study"

  1. Dave   October 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    At least the Apes are honest when they comfort each other!

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