Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Baby's Helping Hands: First Evidence For Altruistic Behaviours In Human Infants And Chimpanzees

Date:
March 5, 2006
Source:
Max Planck Society
Summary:
According to a Yiddish proverb, 'if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm.' A new study from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany offers another place to find one - children and chimpanzees. Researchers developed several helping scenarios in which an adult was struggling with a problem and needed help. In one such scenario, an adult accidentally dropped objects on a floor and was unable to reach them.

"Can we help you?" Even our closest evolutionary ancestors can be altruistic, according to a new study.
Credit: Image : Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

According to a Yiddish proverb, 'if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm.' A new study from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany offers another place to find one - children and chimpanzees. Researchers developed several helping scenarios in which an adult was struggling with a problem and needed help. In one such scenario, an adult accidentally dropped objects on a floor and was unable to reach them.

Related Articles


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. (SCIENCE, March 3, 2006).

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.'



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. "Baby's Helping Hands: First Evidence For Altruistic Behaviours In Human Infants And Chimpanzees." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 March 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303205611.htm>.
Max Planck Society. (2006, March 5). Baby's Helping Hands: First Evidence For Altruistic Behaviours In Human Infants And Chimpanzees. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303205611.htm
Max Planck Society. "Baby's Helping Hands: First Evidence For Altruistic Behaviours In Human Infants And Chimpanzees." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303205611.htm (accessed November 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pygmy Marmoset Getting a Toothbrush Massage Is the Cutest

Pygmy Marmoset Getting a Toothbrush Massage Is the Cutest

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) This rescued pygmy marmoset named Ninita is obsessed with her toothbrush. It's cuteness overload, and Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the amazing video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Are Chocolate Makers So Worried?

Why Are Chocolate Makers So Worried?

Reuters - Business Video Online (Nov. 19, 2014) Two big chocolate producers are warning the popular treat could run out by 2020 because people are eating it faster than farmers can grow cocoa. Ciara Lee reports Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tiny Hamster Eating Thanksgiving Meal Breaks the Internet

Tiny Hamster Eating Thanksgiving Meal Breaks the Internet

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) A tiny hamster and a bunny and rat enjoy a tiny Thanksgiving meal where they stuff themselves to the brim. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the cute video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Giant Panda at Toronto Zoo Loves Somersaulting in the Snow

Giant Panda at Toronto Zoo Loves Somersaulting in the Snow

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) A giant panda at the Toronto Zoo named Da Mao is celebrating the northeast snowfall by playing and tumbling in the snow in his outdoor enclosure. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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