Hardwired for Altruism?

Social Darwinism seems to be dying the “death of a thousand cuts,” as more and more research confirms our primate nature includes a strong dose of hardwired altruism and other “pro-social” emotions.

For instance:  in a 2011 study, female chimpanzees were offered a choice between two tokens of different colors.  The “selfish”  token gave the chimp a reward.   The “generous” token gave the same reward but also bestowed it on an observing, unrelated female chimp who might not even have been looking as the choice was made.  The female chimps more often chose the pro-social token, whether or not the observer showed any interest.  In fact, efforts by the observer to pressure the “decider” discouraged generosity.

Interesting for us conflict resolution professionals to ponder this experiment as we devise techniques for encouraging reciprocal generosity at the negotiating table.

The article is:

Spontaneous Pro-Social Choice by Chimpanzees”

Horner, V.J., Cartera, D., Suchack, M., de Waal, F.B.M., PNAS, Vol. 108 (33), August 2011, 13847–13851.

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