In the last few months we have seen an out pouring of compassion towards victims of recent hurricanes. When the tough gets tougher, we humans know how to band together and help each other out. But how does this trait separate us from our cousin the chimpanzee? A recent study by Joan Silk showed that chimps are not so willing to help out their fellow chimps. Two chimps were placed in side-by-side cages. One chimp had the option of pulling one of two ropes. One rope would only reward him with a piece of food, but the other rope, if pulled, would reward both chimps with food. Half the time the chimp pulled self-reward rope and the other half of the time he pulled on both-reward rope. Here’s where it gets kind of sad. Even when the chimp in the other cage made begging gestures to other chimp, he still wouldn’t pull on the both-reward rope.
Of course lab chimps and wild chimps behave a bit differently. Chimps in the wild are known to share food with other group members, but you also have to consider that there’s more politics going on in wild chimp groups. Silk agrees and says there’s still more research to be done. Next she wants switch the chimps around to see how the chimp that had been able to reward himself with yummy pieces of banana feels to not get any and to see if this has any effect on his behavior.
I suppose for the most parts we tend to be compassionate towards each other and willing to help each other out, but you still see too many people out there reverting back to their inner chimp. It’s that guy who cuts you off on the freeway or that lady who shoves you out of the way to get ahead of with her 100 items in the 20-item-or-less check out lane.