Whether or not humans are the only empathic beings is still under debate. In a new study, researchers directly compared the ‘yawn contagion’ effect between humans and bonobos — our closest evolutionary cousins.
By doing so they were able to directly compare the empathic abilities of ourselves with another species, and found that a close relationship between individuals is more important to their empathic response than the fact that individuals might be from the same species….
In conclusion, this study suggests that differences in levels of emotional contagion between humans and bonobos are attributable to the quality of relationships shared by individuals. When the complexity of social bonds, typical of humans, is not in play, Homo sapiens climb down the tree of empathy to go back to the understory which we share with our ape cousins.