Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Humans Have A Strong Desire To Help Each Other, But Is Spite Also Part Of The Human Condition?

Date:
January 25, 2006
Source:
Max Planck Society
Summary:
In a new study, chimpanzees from the Wolfgang Koehler Primate Research Centre in Leipzig were given a choice; by pulling on a rope they could either deliver food to another chimpanzee or they could deliver it to an empty room. In both cases, the chimpanzee pulling the rope did not receive any food itself. Contrary to initial expectations the chimpanzees behaved neither altruistic nor spiteful. According to the researchers, both characteristics therefore seem to be human-specific.

Solidarity or spite? Empathy with others, both in a positive and negative sense, appears to be a exclusive characteristic of humans.
Credit: Image : Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

In a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy (January 17, 2006), Keith Jensen and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany looks at altruism and spite in our close cousin; the chimpanzee. In Jensen’s study, chimpanzees from the Wolfgang Koehler Primate Research Centre in Leipzig were given a choice; by pulling on a rope they could either deliver food to another chimpanzee or they could deliver it to an empty room. In both cases, the chimpanzee pulling the rope did not receive any food itself. Contrary to initial expectations the chimpanzees behaved neither altruistic nor spiteful. According to the researchers, both characteristics therefore seem to be human-specific.

An altruistic chimpanzee would give food to its neighbour, despite the effort in pulling the food, and a spiteful chimpanzee would prevent its neighbour from having the food by delivering it to the empty room.

‘I predicted chimps would be spiteful. I thought if they knew they couldn’t have the food, they wouldn’t let anyone else have it.’ Jensen found that half the time, the chimpanzees did nothing. A quarter of the time they delivered food to their neighbour, then a quarter of the time to the empty room. This demonstrated neither altruism nor spite.

‘They didn’t seem to care about the other guy one way or the other. All that concerned them was getting the food and they were completely focused on that. Even when they knew they couldn’t have the food, they didn’t help the other chimp but they weren’t spiteful either.’

In contrast, humans are obviously altruistic. We give blood, we donate money to charity, and we volunteer to help strangers. This kind of altruism has never been demonstrated in any other animal except for humans and some believe it is one of the characteristics that makes us human. But Jensen says spite is just as important. As a form of punishment, spite can encourage cooperative behaviour by penalising cheaters.

‘Punishing others is usually costly to yourself, whether that’s the taxpayer or the lawmakers but punishment is still a natural part of modern society. We punish theft, murder and countless other crimes to keep the fabric of society together. Perhaps human society is where it is today because spite exists and there is a mechanism to punish cheaters.’

If altruism and spite are unique to humans and are not present in chimpanzees, then it is likely that these characteristics have arisen in the last 6 million years since humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor. Humans’ intense regard for each other, either positive or negative, may have made an important contribution to our ability to cooperate, our sense of fairness, and the morality that defines today’s society.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max Planck Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Max Planck Society. "Humans Have A Strong Desire To Help Each Other, But Is Spite Also Part Of The Human Condition?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 January 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060125082712.htm>.
Max Planck Society. (2006, January 25). Humans Have A Strong Desire To Help Each Other, But Is Spite Also Part Of The Human Condition?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060125082712.htm
Max Planck Society. "Humans Have A Strong Desire To Help Each Other, But Is Spite Also Part Of The Human Condition?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060125082712.htm (accessed August 23, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) New England farms are seeing a surge in younger farm hands as the 'buy local' food movement grows across the country. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, spiders that live in cities are bigger, fatter and multiply faster. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins