Frans de Waal on chimps & bonobos and Empathy | NPR – To the best of our KNOWLEDGE

Are humans unique – or really not that different from other apes?  Primatologist Frans de Waal says chimps & bonobos share many of our traits, including empathy and a sense of fairness.  He describes some of his research that challenges assumptions about human exceptionalism.


“Paulson: You’re talking about empathy here – the capacity to recognize another chimpanzee’s pain or difficulties, and then to help that animal.
 de Waal: Yeah. Empathy is one of those traits that humans over-estimate the complexity of. And that’s why if you tell the average psychologist, you say that there is empathy in animals, they will say that’s not possible. Because they think empathy means that you consciously put yourself in the shoes of somebody else. Now we know from human research that is not the case. In human research we know that there’s a lot of empathy, automatic empathy responses.
 Like if I’m frowning and looking sad, you’re going to be frowning and looking sad. Because you’re going to be affected by my facial emotions, right? If I’m happy and laughing and smiling, you’re going to be laughing and smiling. And so there’s a lot of bodily connection in human empathy. And that bodily connection, which is usually called emotional contagion, is easily demonstrable in lots of animals. And so we can test out these bodily connections that exist, and that’s how empathy basically starts.”