Whether animals have the ability to show empathy similar to humans has been the subject for debate for many years. Matthew Campbell and Frans de Waal, who work at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, set about to test this under controlled conditions.
Research undertaken by the two found that chimpanzees can empathise with humans, even if the human is unfamiliar to them. The team explain, “Chimpanzees showed that the ability to connect with unfamiliar individuals is not unique to humans.” However, the chimpanzees did not empathise with baboons, a species that was unknown to the chimps in the experiment.
Contagious yawning was key in the study,
as with this mimicked action the team were
able to measure how empathetic the
chimps were – the more yawns,
the greater the level of empathy.