Part 2 of a two part Interview conducted September 11, 2013
Link to audio podcast.
Transcript checked by Dick Overfield.
Frans de Waal, he's a Dutch-American biologist who has been named among Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People," He is the Charles Howard Candler professor of Primate Behavior in the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, Georgia, he is the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and is the author of numerous books including Chimpanzee Politics andOur Inner Ape. His latest, The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates. His research centers on primate social behavior, including conflict resolution, cooperation, inequity aversion, and food-sharing.
R.K.: And in terms of cooperation, you've done studies that showed that monkeys not only cooperate to achieve common goals, but they'll even help other monkeys, or other primates when they're not going to be rewarded themselves. When they're already fed they'll help another monkey, or whatever get food. Sharing work is required and you also found that in elephants, right?
F.W.: Yeah. We did experiments on chimpanzees because around the year two thousand everything changed for humans, in a sense, that until that time we were called selfish and competitive and we had selfish genes and all of this and the whole image of human species and all other species was that of competition and selfishness.
Around the year two thousand, all of a sudden, the neuroscientists and the anthropologists and the economists, they all started saying, well, humans are actually much more cooperative than we thought and less selfish than we thought and they have a sense of fairness and they are cooperative even when they don't get benefits from it, and so on.
The human species, all of a sudden, became quite altruistic, but usually it was added right after that that other animals of course were just as selfish as we had always thought they were. So that was a big change in the perception of humans, but also there was, all of a sudden, this implication that other animals were quite different. People started doing experiments at that time with chimpanzees to see if they cared about the well being of somebody else and they actually did not find anything. So they set up experiments in which one chimpanzee would pull an apparatus that would feed himself and his neighbor, and so on, and the chimpanzees were not doing that really.
There were not paying attention to it very much and the conclusion was that, yes, humans are the only altruistic animals. And then we set up an experiment where we did away with the whole apparatus that people have been using because we assumed that the chimps might not have understood the apparatus. So we said, well, if they don't understand it then of course it's not a real test of what they want to do for somebody else.
So we set up a much simpler experiment where you put two chimpanzees side-by-side. They can exchange food for tokens. So they get a bucket-full of tokens, bits of plastic basically, of different colors and one color, if they hand the token to us, they get food, but the neighbor who sits next to them gets nothing.