Long-term consistency in chimpanzee consolation behaviour reflects empathetic personalities

Christine E. Webb*, Teresa Romero, Becca Franks, Frans B.M. De Waal

*Corresponding author for this work

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In contrast to a wealth of human studies, little is known about the ontogeny and consistency of empathy-related capacities in other species. Consolation - post-conflict affiliation from uninvolved bystanders to distressed others - is a suggested marker of empathetic concern in non-human animals. Using longitudinal data comprising nearly a decade of observations on over 3000 conflict interactions in 44 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), we provide evidence for relatively stable individual differences in consolation behaviour. Across development, individuals consistently differ from one another in this trait, with higher consolatory tendencies predicting better social integration, a sign of social competence. Further, similar to recent results in other ape species, but in contrast to many human self-reported findings, older chimpanzees are less likely to console than are younger individuals. Overall, given the link between consolation and empathy, these findings help elucidate the development of individual socio-cognitive and -emotional abilities in one of our closest relatives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number292
Number of pages8
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes

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