09 September 2008

Chimpanzees comfort victims of bullies with a consoling hug ...

Chimps like humans when being bullied ... is this comforting to know?

It’s the latest study to highlight just how similar chimps and other great apes are to humans.

A recent study looking at similarities in behaviour between Chimpanzees and humans has revealed just that.

A study was conducted over a period of 18 months with Chester Zoo Chimpanzees by Dr Orlaith Fraser, of Liverpool John Moores University. The Chimpanzees showed that they comfort the victims of bullies by hugging and giving a kiss on the viticm chimps cheek.

Dr Fraser stated that '.. the hugs, strokes and kisses helped lower stress levels'

The www.dailymail.co.uk reports that the researchers '..witnessed more than 250 fights – usually over mates, food or seating arrangements.'

“Usually within the first minute of the end of conflict, the consolation occurs,” Dr Fraser told the British Association Science Festival in Liverpool.

“You have a third party who approaches the victim and then wraps their arms around them, or might kiss them or come up to them and groom them.

”It seems this particular behaviour calms the victim down.”

Even groups of friendly chimps will squabble and bicker, just like families.

Even though most fights don’t end in injuries, the sight of an angry chimpanzee can be intimidating,

Their hand stands on end, they thump the ground, jump up and down and hoot and scream. Often they will punch or bite their rival, or chase them around the treetops.

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists saw hugs and kisses after half the disputes.

Friends – chimps who often shared food or played together – were the most likely to offer support.

The researchers measured their stress levels by recording the amount of self-scratching and self-grooming, and comparing it to the normal levels of a happy chimp.

Consoling behaviour like this has been seen before in wild apes, - and in dogs and rooks.

But this is the first time scientists were able to show that the cuddles and hugs had a reassuring and calming effect on victims.

Dr Fraser believes the animals may be capable of empathy – the ability to put yourself in someone else’s place.

“We can't actually say what's going on in a chimpanzee's mind; we can only deduce from their behaviour what's going on," she said.

"Because this behaviour is actually reducing stress levels and it's being offered by a valuable partner, it seems likely that this is an expression of empathy."

Their behaviour mirrored seven year old children – who will put an arm around a friend’s shoulder if they have been bulled.

“This is something that is thought to be a unique trait to humans,” she said.

“So this is an important step towards understanding whether or not chimpanzees are capable of this level of empathy."

Although the study looked at chimps in captivity, similar behaviour has been seen in the wild, she added.
Chimps are human’s closest relatives in the wild. Like people they can use tools – using sticks to fish out termites, hunt in teams and plan ahead. They are also one of the few animals that can recognise themselves in a mirror – and realise that they are looking at a reflection.

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