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How Empathy in Chimpanzees Makes Us Human


For decades, scientists have dedicated their efforts to understanding chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are some of our closest living relatives. The remarkable primates and new information gathered about them are invaluable in fields such as psychology, biology, and anthropology. A recent discovery sheds light on the empathic abilities of chimpanzees. Although the study might seem trivial at first, as it talks about cases of chimpanzees applying on themselves as medicine which has been seen before - now it has also been documented that they apply to other chimpanzees. This small act hints at the presence of empathy. It's important to further delve into the complex and beautiful world of chimpanzees as well as to look at their capacity for empathy to better understand them as well as ourselves. 


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It has long been considered a defining characteristic of human nature. It allows for the creation of stronger social bonds, cooperation, and compassion, which have all been integral parts of human evolution. Recent research by Mascaro et al. (2022) has uncovered the fascinating phenomena of chimpanzees applying insects to wounds of themselves and others. Such behavior hints at the possession of empathy among chimpanzees; they are looking not only at their own well-being but also at the well-being of their counterparts. 


Koski and Sterck (2010) have previously proposed that empathy can be observed in chimpanzees. This is seen through the emotional and cognitive processes. Meaning, it is possible for chimpanzees to not only share the emotional experiences of their fellow group members but also possess a cognitive understanding of their needs. This further supports the idea of empathy in primates. The capacity for empathy in chimpanzees also has implications for humans. Understanding how empathy developed in chimpanzees and how it prevails can tell scientists more about our own development of empathy and further implications of empathy in the animal world.


One key aspect is the exploration of the evolutionary link between the empathy observed in chimpanzees and the advanced empathic abilities present in humans. De Waal et al. (2022) offer insight into empathy development. They use comparative perspectives focusing on chimpanzees and bonobos mostly. Bonobos are another group of primates that are very real to humans. This research allows us to draw parallels and differences between empathy in our closest living relatives as well as the human species itself. 


The study of empathy in chimpanzees is a captivating area of research that not only sheds light on the emotional lives of our closest relatives but also has far-reaching implications for understanding human development and evolution. The ability of chimpanzees to use uses for medicinal purposes and apply them to others suggests that empathy is not solely a human attribute. By delving into the origins and beginnings of chimpanzee empathy, we gain valuable insight into the complex interplay of biology, psychology, and anthropology. These studies provide a foundation for further exploration into a subject that will become one of the most important ones shortly, bridging the gap between the animal kingdom and the intricacies of human nature. 




Works Cited

Mascaro, Southern, L. M., Deschner, T., & Pika, S. (2022). Application of insects to wounds of 

self and others by chimpanzees in the wild. Current Biology, 32(3), R112–R113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.12.045


Koski, & Sterck, E. H. M. (2010). Empathic chimpanzees: A proposal of the levels of emotional 

and cognitive processing in chimpanzee empathy. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 7(1), 38–66. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405620902986991


de Waal, Romero, T., Webb, C. E., & Clay, Z. (2022). Comparative Perspectives of Empathy 

Development: Insights From Chimpanzees and Bonobos. In The Oxford Handbook of Emotional Development. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198855903.013

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