Treat the stranger as you would be treated

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Spontaneous Altruism by Chimpanzees and Young Children:

Debates about altruism are often based on the assumption that it is either unique to humans or else the human version differs from that of other animals in important ways. Thus, only humans are supposed to act on behalf of others, even toward genetically unrelated individuals, without personal gain, at a cost to themselves. Studies investigating such behaviors in nonhuman primates, especially our close relative the chimpanzee, form an important contribution to this debate. Here we present experimental evidence that chimpanzees act altruistically toward genetically unrelated conspecifics. In addition, in two comparative experiments, we found that both chimpanzees and human infants helped altruistically, regardless of any expectation of reward, even when some effort was required, and even when the recipient was an unfamiliar individual-all features previously thought to be unique to humans. The evolutionary roots of human altruism may thus go deeper than previously thought, reaching as far back as the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.

The roots of altruism may go back quite far indeed; the elaboration and extension, not so much. After all, pigeons and rats have numeracy. Only humans have math. This might be the case where it is not the sufficiency of one necessary condition but the necessity of multiple conditions. Science Now has a summary.



  1. “genetically unrelated conspecifics”: I’d love to know what that’s meant to mean. Conspecific means, in this context, chimpanzees (I assume). “Genetically unrelated” can’t mean what it says because otherwise the other creature can’t be a chimp. I presume that it means that the genetic relationship isn’t close. But I don’t know exactly what that means. Is the idea really so deep or so subtle that it can’t be phrased briefly in clear English?

  2. they’re scientists. unclear english.

  3. “genetically unrelated conspecifics”: I’d love to know what that’s meant to mean.  
    That means they are not of the same immediate family.

  4. Ah, so “not close kin” might do?