Primate intelligence gives me cognitive dissonance. It's fascinating that monkeys can recognize numbers, construct tools and even follow to-do lists. But it also bruises my ego, just slightly, knowing that monkeys aren't that different from my parents, friends or heroes. (Michael Phelps excluded. He's the übermensch.)
We've always been separate from monkeys on one front, though. In countless documentaries about primates, after proving how intelligent monkeys are, the host always caveats it with a final statement: monkeys don't like to share. Even when they split a banana with a fellow monkey, the reward centers of their brain don't light up like ours. There you have it—we love altruism, so we're better than them.
Well, not quite. Earlier this week, scientists from Emory University found that capuchin monkeys take delight in giving to others. They paired the animals with either a relative, non-related acquaintance, or complete stranger, and gave them a choice between two tokens. One of the tokens allowed the monkeys to enjoy an apple slice all to themselves, while the other rewarded both monkeys with the treat. When they were paired with a family member or acquaintance, most of the animals chose the latter. Researchers attributed this to their emphatic nature, and explained that the closer they were to the fellow monkey, the more likely they were to give. Just like us.
Via Science Daily
My question is, "What is stopping various primates from becoming "human" in the non-species sense?" Divine motivation, alien assistance, simple survival? Very interesting nonetheless. Perhaps one day we will be finally talking and/or understanding our long lost cousins.
This study actually is consistent with much primate behavior that seems to be 'altruistic'. Primates live with many relatives, and even the individuals in their groups who aren't relatives are long-term members of the group who interact with each other over and over every day. It turns out that helping your relatives helps yourself, in that you share lots of genes with your relatives, so you end up passing your genes on to the next generation through helping your relatives reproduce. And helping individuals who you know you'll see in the future (relatives or not), can turn out to be helping yourself as well, because primates are smart enough to remember who they 'owe' and who 'owes' them. This is the 'tit for tat' or 'you scratch my back I'll scratch yours' logic of an exchange of favors. It only works if you're reasonably confident that you'll see each other again, and primate groups meet that requirement. So, the 'sharing' monkeys are actually behaving in a self-beneficial manner by choosing to feed themselves AND their relative or 'friend'. More impressive, and unexpected, would be if they chose to feed the relative or friend if that meant sacrificing their own piece of apple.