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Unselfish Primates

March 12, 2009

Are primates moral?


The roots of morality….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Being greedy is looked down upon in human society. But do animals feel the same way? Biologist Frans de Waal of Emory University says chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys do. He says in an experiment where two primates were given cucumbers for doing a simple task, they both did the task readily. But if one received a much tastier grape instead, the other protested the unfair treatment and stopped performing the task. And in other experiments, the primates preferred to share food rewards instead of keeping them for themselves. De Waal believes the roots of unselfish behavior in humans evolved in our primate ancestors.

FRANS DEWAAL (Emory University):
I think what we have done in our moral systems we have taken them a step further. But we never could have developed human morality without this kind of basic psychology that we share with other primates.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.