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Nonhuman empathy

Chuck Kristensen chuck at spiderpharm.com
Fri Feb 19 23:29:49 EST 1999

Sergio Navega wrote in message <36c19bb7 at news3.us.ibm.net>...
>No, that's not empathy, that's only a reaction to a stimulus perceived
>as dangerous. Empathy is a different sort of thing. What we mean by
>empathy is a much rarer behavior. It seems to happen to bonobos, a
>kind of chimpanzee, able to use symbols to communicate (see Sue
>Savage-Rumbaugh's book about Kanzi). In an experiment, a man is put
>in front of a bonobo chimp. Then suddenly, the adult looks to the
>ceiling, pretending having seen something strange.
>Impressively, the bonobo also looks at the ceiling, trying to see
>what that strange thing is. This not only reveal the amazing perceptive
>abilities of the bonobos but also its empathetic abilities
>(recognizing the human's intention in looking for something strange).
>Now try to do this with your dog. The result will be no recognition,
>showing that dogs (as with most other animals) do not have enough
>"brain machinery" to present this kind of behavior.
>Sergio Navega.


I do not know how to measure empathy in other animals, but your comparison
of chimp and dog seems to fall far short of the mark which you were aiming

It does not sound like you have spent much time watching packs of wolves (or
other canines) in their natural environment. These animals are responsive to
far more subtle changes in behavior of other animals in their pack and their
prey than the behavior which the chimp responded to.

I would also suggest that it is easier for a chimp to recognize human facial
expressions than it is for a dog and not simply because of higher
intelligence in the chimp. Dogs have and respond to very different
expressions .... they don't speak the same lingo.

Chuck Kristensen

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