The Evolution of Connectivity: Primate Social Skills
Homo homini lupus – “man is wolf to man” - is a proverb popularized by Thomas Hobbes. It permeates large parts of law, economics, and political science, whereas students of animal behavior generally view it as short-sighted given that both wolves and humans are highly cooperative species. The same is true for many other animals, including cetaceans.
In this lecture, I will discuss how empathy comes naturally to all mammals even though my own research is mostly on monkeys, apes, and elephants. My interest in the prosocial side of animal behavior started with the discovery that primates make up after fights by means of kissing, embracing, grooming, and so on. Reconciliation behavior has now been reported for many other taxonomic groups. We study prosocial tendencies both by means of observation of spontaneous behavior and experimentally. One individual may come to another's rescue in a fight, put an arm around a previous victim of attack, or show other emotional responses to the distress of others. We test how well animals understand cooperation, whether they are willing to do others favors without reward for themselves, and whether they are sensitive to equal vs. unequal resource division similar to the human sense of fairness. As a result of these studies, I believe that animals -- and especially large brained long-lived mammals -- show building blocks of morality.