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Spiteless Chimps

March 7, 2006

From soap operas to political campaigns, spite runs rampant in the human world. But do higher animals share our spiteful tendencies?


Looking for spite in the chimp world. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Mark Twain said that "Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to." Keith Jensen, a Canadian graduate student at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, might agree. He designed several experiments to see if chimpanzees would behave spitefully to their fellow chimps, by depriving their neighbor of a banana when they themselves couldn’t have one. He says the chimps weren’t spiteful, although they didn’t go out of their way to give their neighbors food either.

KEITH JENSEN (Max Planck Institute, Germany):
So what we concluded is: well, chimps just don’t care what happens to the other guy when there’s food on the line, at least in this study.

He says that chimps may just lack an instinctive sense of fairness. The findings will add fuel to a growing controversy over the existence of spite and altruism in other species. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.