Chimpanzees are not as selfish as many human researchers of the past had believed.   In a series of recent experiments using colored “tokens” two chimps placed in adjoining chambers could see one another through a screen.   One chimpanzee had to pick either a “selfish” colored token or a “pro-social” token.   If she made the pro-social choice, both chimpanzees would get a piece of banana wrapped in paper.   Choosing the selfish option would reward only the chooser.   Seven out of seven female chimps tested strongly preferred the pro-social option.   Altruism, it seems, it not a human-only trait.

Past experiments seemed to show that chimpanzees were not capable of - or interested in - selfless behavior.  Maybe earlier human researchers saw only what they expected to see.

Credit: Horner et al

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