The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Are Humans Actually Selfish?

Gordon Gekko got it wrong. In his new book The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society, primatologist Frans de Waal uses a variety of studies on empathy in animals to debunk the idea that humans are competitive to the core. He talked to TIME about contagious yawning, why we share and Bernie Madoff.

How do you define empathy?
Empathy is sometimes defined by psychologists as some sort of high-level cognitive feat where you imagine how somebody else feels or how you would feel in their situation. But my definition is more focused on the whole of empathy, and that includes emotions. If you are sad and crying, it's not just that I try to imagine how you feel. But I feel for you and I feel with you. (Read what makes us moral.)

You explain in the book that empathy really starts with our bodies: running together, laughing together, yawning together. So yawning really is contagious?
Yeah. Dogs catch yawns from their owners. Chimpanzees yawn [in response to those] that we show them. Yawn contagion is very interesting because it's a very deep bodily connection between humans or between animals. Humans who have problems with empathy, such as autistic children, don't have yawn contagion. It's either because they don't pay attention to the yawns of others or they're not affected by them. (Read about the secrets inside your dog's mind.)

There's an example in the book where you talk about apes sharing food as a demonstration of empathy. What's in it for the apes who already have food — why do they choose to give it away?
In biology, we usually make a sharp distinction between why things evolved and why animals do things. For example, sex evolved for reproduction. But if you ask people why they have sex, reproduction is not always mentioned. So there's a separation between why the behavior evolved and why the actors actually engage in it. The same is true for altruistic tendencies. You share food with your kin; you share food with individuals who may repay the favor. So the sharing behavior evolved for self-interested reasons. But that doesn't mean that the individual actor, at the moment that he does it, is thinking of the potential benefits.

Source, Finale & Photographs

No comments:

Post a Comment