Grown-up chimps are less likely to help distressed friends

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By Sam Wong

There, there! Adult chimpanzees are less likely than younger ones to console their companions in times of distress. The finding raises questions about how the capacity for empathy changes with age in our closest relatives – and us.

When a chimpanzee gets upset, perhaps after losing a fight, companions will often sit with them and provide reassurance by kissing, grooming or embracing them.

The same is true of young children. By age 2, children typically respond to a family member crying by consoling them in a similar way.

We know chimpanzees have personalities: individual differences in their behaviour that are consistent over time. But it was unclear whether their empathetic tendencies are part of their personality, and whether they change over time.

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