Spontaneous Altruism by Chimpanzees and Young Children


“People often act on behalf of others. They do so without immediate personal gain, at cost to themselves, and even toward unfamiliar individuals. Many researchers have claimed that such altruism emanates from a species-unique psychology not found in humans’ closest living evolutionary relatives, such as the chimpanzee. In favor of this view, the few experimental studies on altruism in chimpanzees have produced mostly negative results. In contrast, we report experimental evidence that chimpanzees perform basic forms of helping in the absence of rewards spontaneously and repeatedly toward humans and conspecifics. In two comparative studies, semi–free ranging chimpanzees helped an unfamiliar human to the same degree as did human infants, irrespective of being rewarded (experiment 1) or whether the helping was costly (experiment 2). In a third study, chimpanzees helped an unrelated conspecific gain access to food in a novel situation that required subjects to use a newly acquired skill on behalf of another individual. These results indicate that chimpanzees share crucial aspects of altruism with humans, suggesting that the roots of human altruism may go deeper than previous experimental evidence suggested.”

Citation: Warneken F, Hare B, Melis AP, Hanus D, Tomasello M (2007) Spontaneous Altruism by Chimpanzees and Young Children. PLoS Biol 5(7): e184 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050184

Received: February 8, 2007; Accepted: May 14, 2007; Published: June 26, 2007


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