Altruistic Apes

Two Bonobo monkeys looking at a leaf that one of them holds

When it comes to helping strangers, what kind of ape are you?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

You might think altruism is a uniquely human trait. For example, when lending a helping hand, chimpanzees tend to favor their friends. But do other primates show more compassion toward strangers?

Jingzhi Tan at Duke University looked at bonobos, a close relative of chimpanzees. He placed one group of bonobos in a room. Then he put a single, unacquainted bonobo in the room next door. An apple was then hung so it was unreachable, but visible, from both rooms. The single bonobo could pull a pin to deliver the apple into the neighboring room. The point? To see if single bonobos were willing to help a group of outsiders.

And? The bonobos were happy to pull the pin and help their fellow apes to a treat! Even without the promise of a reward!

So don’t be a chimp! Channel your inner bonobo! Give up that Trader Joe’s parking space. Or at least, an apple.

Reference: Tan, J., Ariely, D., & Hare, B. (2017). Bonobos respond prosocially toward members of other groups. Scientific Reports, 7(1).