Milk of Human Kindness Also Found in Bonobos
By SINDYA N. BHANOO
Jan. 7, 2013 [NY Times]
Bonobos will happily share their food with a
stranger, and even give up their own meal -- but only if the stranger offers
them social interaction, evolutionary anthropologists at
report in the journal PLoS One. The researchers,
Jingzhi Tan and Brian Hare, say their findings may shed light on the
origins of altruism in humans.
Along with chimpanzees, bonobos are
among the closest primates to humans. Chimpanzees, however, do not display
similar behavior toward strangers.
"If you only studied chimps you would
think that humans evolved this trait of sharing with strangers later," Mr.
Tan said. "But now, given that bonobos do this, one scenario is that the
common ancestor of chimps, humans and bonobos had this trait."
subjects were all orphaned bonobos at the
Lola ya Bonobo
sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In one phase of the
study, bonobos were given a pile of food, then given the opportunity to
release a stranger or a group mate (or both) from other rooms.
bonobos chose to release strangers and share their food. Not only that, but
the just-released bonobo would then release the third.
shocking to us because chimpanzees are so xenophobic," Mr. Tan said. "They
won't approach a stranger unless they outnumber them."
The apes did
have a limit -- they would not share their own food when no social
interaction was involved.
They were, however, willing to help a
stranger get food even without social interaction. Mr. Tan compared this to
certain human acts of kindness.
"It's like when you donate money and you
don't tell people," he said, "so there's no way for you to get any benefit."