Chimps are Altruistic, Says Research

Emory University researchers say the results of their study show chimps are inherently altruistic. They trained a group of chimps to recognize tokens that were of two colors. One color could be traded for food just for one chimp, and the other was for one chimp and another. The researchers observed almost 70 percent of the time a female chimp would choose the token which provided food for herself and one other chimp.

While this research observation might not sound too ground-breaking to some, it actually contradicts previous studies which supposedly showed chimps were selfish creatures by default. The old view was that chimps were altruistic when pressured, and wouldn’t share or look out for others unless pressure was applied. Field observations noted chimps in the wild did make altruistic actions, but research studies largely did not include this view. The Emory researchers designed a Prosocial Choice Test to simplify some of the previous approaches, which reportedly produced some unclear results.

Their design actually sounds somewhat like a research study that provided opportunities to observe elephants and show how they can cooperate to achieve a goal – usually obtaining food. They also cooperate to do other things, such as protect a baby elephant from a potential predator attack. Care2 even published a video of adult elephants gathering to help a baby elephant stuck in a muddy stream.

“It isn’t just chimps and elephants that are capable of empathy. Since empathy is an old mammalian trait, there is no reason why the sort of altruism we describe should be unique for the primates. I expect it will be found in dogs and rats. We, and others, found it previously in monkeys: capuchin monkeys, marmosets, tamarins,” said Frans de Waal, one of the researchers. (Source:

Another chimp study this year found more evidence that chimps experience empathy. Some people don’t like to consider the possibility empathy or emotion could be part of animals lives, because they adhere to the belief only humans have them, and are evidence of human superiority. Science is gradually overturning that outdated belief.

Image Credit: Thomas Lersch / Wiki Commons

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Maria D'Oporto
Past Member 5 years ago

kool article!!

Vanessa Wolfe
Vanessa Wolfe5 years ago

There are a lot of slow learners out there, but only the human kind.

New G.
W. C5 years ago

Thank you.

Vaiva G.
Vaiva G6 years ago

I found the last paragraph most interesting. It's funny how little people have that makes them feel superior to animals, so they have to target emotions like empathy.

Jane R.
Jane R6 years ago

Humans could learn a lot from animals.

James H.
James Hager6 years ago

good read

Stephen N.
Stephen N6 years ago

It just supports what I've known all my life - 6 decades and counting. Many times "animals" make better people than people themselves. Thank God my parents let the cats and dogs be full family members. We are so much more alike than different in all the things that count.

Jane Warren
Jane Warren6 years ago

People - I'm thinking of politicians in particular - would do well to emulate chimps and/or elephants.

Sylvia J.
sylvia jones6 years ago

We all saw that dog who wouldn't leave the side of his buddy after the tsunami till someone rescued both of them. I think dogs and cats have it in spades.

Janet Ives
Janet Ives6 years ago

sounds like chimps are ahead of the game