“Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) reassure others in distress”, Research paper author Dr. Joshua Plotnik.
J: Can you tell us a bit about the research you publish today?
JP: How animals resolve conflicts is an exciting area of research, and has been expanding ever since the first studies on it in chimpanzees by Frans de Waal and colleagues in the late 1970s. Usually, scientists study two forms of conflict resolution: reconciliation (which looks at how aggressors and victims “make up” after fights) and consolation (which looks at how uninvolved bystanders reassure the victims). Interestingly, reconciliation is relatively common in the animal kingdom, while consolation is relatively rare.
One hypothesis suggests the reason
for this is that consolation has
empathic underpinnings unique
to only a few species
in the animal kingdom.
One hypothesis suggests the reason for this is that consolation has empathic underpinnings unique to only a few species in the animal kingdom. To date, only the great apes, canines and corvids have shown consolation. Elephants make an interesting and unique test subject because they are well-known for their intelligence and social complexity (as well as acts of helping behavior and empathy), but much of the evidence for these capacities is anecdotal.