Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chimps Hate You Because of What You Do, Not What You Have

A group of evolutionary biologists at the Max Planck Institute have demonstrated that chimpanzees are capable of taking revenge when they feel personally wronged but, unlike humans, won't act out of spite if they merely see that another chimp is better off:
The researchers explored how chimpanzees responded to loss and theft by putting them one at a time in a small room with access to food on a sliding table in a booth outside.

Each animal held a rope allowing it to collapse the table and send the food out of reach. Unsurprisingly, the chimpanzees chose not to collapse the table while eating, researchers said.

When the researchers made the food on the table viewable but out of reach to the first chimpanzee or when a second animal could eat in plain view of the first, the chimpanzees did not seem to care.

When the second animal was able to take the food away from the first, the chimpanzee without food often collapsed the table to take revenge, the researchers said.

"The final situation was punishment where theft was involved," [lead researcher Keith] Jensen said in a telephone interview. "The only option for the victim in this situation was to collapse the table and nobody eats."
Link (via Freakonomics Blog). So we probably can breathe a little easier knowing this chimp isn't motivated by spite for human global domination. And we finally have a major, scientifically demonstrable hole in the plausibility of this vision of the future.

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Image credits: "Project X," courtesy Reel Film, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.


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