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Author Topic:   The opposite of altruism is human?
macaroniandcheese 
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Message 1 of 12 (410866)
07-17-2007 3:06 PM


http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2007/07/16/spite_ani.html?category=animals

July 16, 2007 — A new study on our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, found the animals might enact revenge under certain circumstances, but never with spite.
The finding, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, suggests homo sapiens are the only known species that sometimes feel a need to see others suffer.

For chimps, on the other hand, the message is, "Don't mess with my lunch, or else."

Researchers Keith Jensen, Josep Call and Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany devised experiments where 13 chimps could pull a string attached to a table, causing the table to collapse and fall to the ground. The primates had no trouble doing this, and quickly learned not to pull the string when they were eating food that was resting on the table.

A few study phases tested the general frustration of chimps, since the scientists would allow one chimp to dine in front of another. The onlooker could not reach the food, yet could pull the string. In another version of this test, a person would grab food from one eating, potentially string-pulling chimp and then give the food to another in full view.

The only situation that repeatedly caused the chimps to collapse the table was when a chimpanzee would blatantly steal food from the other. The victim would then pull the string, but without pleasure.

"The chimpanzees who collapsed the table were often angry and would continue to threaten the thief," lead author Jensen told Discovery News. "If they had the chance, and they were dominant, they would likely have beaten up the other chimpanzee."

The chimps did not seem to hold a lasting grudge, however.

Jensen said "when the test was done and the subjects were allowed to be with the rest of the group, there appeared to be no consequences for either individual."

The researchers believe punishment — in this case disrupting lunch — can benefit social groups in the long run, since it may discourage selfish behavior and help prevent "the degrading influence of free-riders."

Spite, on the other hand, is not always a means to an end, but rather is an end in itself.

A sneaky human, for example, might hide and pull on the string just to enjoy seeing the table collapse underneath someone else whose lunch was on the table.

Jensen said such spitefulness "is the evil twin of altruism." Just as an empathetic person may help someone even when the only reward is feeling good about the charitable act, a spiteful individual could hurt another even when the only reward is enjoying, or gaining satisfaction from, the other's suffering.
Jensen therefore thinks spitefulness "may form the basis of altruistic punishment, which is a key component for the maintenance of cooperation in groups."

Although the jury is still out on whether non-human primates exhibit altruism, Danielle Stith, primate keeper at the Oakland Zoo in California, has observed that for chimps, "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" is literally true.

"I've seen chimps whimper for food that another chimp is eating," Stith told Discovery News. "After a period of this, the eating chimp will often share, probably because it knows that somewhere down the line, such as during mutual grooming sessions, it may need this other individual's help."

Lower primates, like baboons and monkeys, are not nearly as cooperative. She said dominant male and female baboons may just "push others away," while monkeys might think nothing of taking a bite out of someone else's food.

While differences clearly exist between higher and lower primates, some discrepancies in social behavior between humans and chimpanzees are less clear.

Jensen and his team are now studying whether or not chimps can recognize "nice" and "nasty" human experimenters, based on how the humans treat the animals. They are also investigating how chimps may punish thieves, even when the potential punishers did not directly suffer the losses.

previously somewhere on the board, there was a discussion of the humanity of altruism and then an article was posted which demonstrated that even rats are inherently altruistic. now this suggests that humans developed something after they separated from chimpanzees which allows them to be downright nasty.

this is particularly interesting to me as i study one rather poignant example of human nastiness, genocide. so let's find some other articles and discuss what is it that makes humans want to hurt each other.

human origins i think.

Edited by brennakimi, : No reason given.


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 Message 7 by sinequanon, posted 12-18-2007 4:23 PM macaroniandcheese has responded

  
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Message 2 of 12 (410879)
07-17-2007 4:30 PM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.
  
iceage 
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Message 3 of 12 (410924)
07-18-2007 12:47 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by macaroniandcheese
07-17-2007 3:06 PM


brennakimi writes:

now this suggests that humans developed something after they separated from chimpanzees which allows them to be downright nasty

However if you read much about Chimpanzee society and behavior they can nasty in their own way - actually quite horrific. They might not be spiteful but they can be consciously cruel for other, maybe more temporal, reasons.

brennakimi writes:

this is particularly interesting to me as i study one rather poignant example of human nastiness, genocide. so let's find some other articles and discuss what is it that makes humans want to hurt each other.

I think was is unique about humans is the ability to organized themselves under the banner of religion or nationalism to commit nastiness on levels not possible in other species. Has there ever been a war or genocide were religion or nationalism was not the prime mover?


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macaroniandcheese 
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Posts: 4258
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Message 4 of 12 (410974)
07-18-2007 9:39 AM
Reply to: Message 3 by iceage
07-18-2007 12:47 AM


However if you read much about Chimpanzee society and behavior they can nasty in their own way - actually quite horrific. They might not be spiteful but they can be consciously cruel for other, maybe more temporal, reasons.

naturally, but this study at least suggests that the nastiness is always deserved. though i know that they have their own territory wars.

Has there ever been a war or genocide were religion or nationalism was not the prime mover?

probably not. but then that is how people have decided to organize themselves. organization defines other and other is attacked.


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Ben!
Member (Idle past 1697 days)
Posts: 1154
From: San Diego, CA
Joined: 10-14-2004


Message 5 of 12 (410977)
07-18-2007 10:17 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by macaroniandcheese
07-17-2007 3:06 PM


Brenna,

Unless I'm missing something because I'm glossing this fairly quickly, I have two major issues with this study, and one with your interest in relating the findings to genocide. I did search around for about 30 mins for some references, but didn't find much.

The two issues for the study:
1. I didn't read any information or reviews on literature relating to a major experimental caveat--the possible effects of putting chimpanzees in this foreign, seemingly human environment and decision-making situation. Whether it's in the source article or not I can't tell, but scientific studies (at least in my area of study) always attempt to address such basic caveats. That information strongly influences how believable, important, or applicable this result is by giving you an idea how far you can generalize the result.
(note I did read http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/reprint/130/1/1 to get some idea on within-troop chimpanzee behavior while searching for other information)

2. I didn't see that these experimenters tested humans in the same situation. If you (generic you) want to show that chimps are not spiteful but humans are, then there's two things you gotta show. They only showed that, in this situation, chimps do not act spitefully. Did I miss the data on human behavior?

3. (OK, 3, not two) In this study, you have a group of 13 chimps where their relationship to each other is unspecified. With the group (troop) "in vs. out" so critical in the animal world, I wonder about how within-troop relations differ from a group of "misfits" with no strong troop ties (the probable situation in this study).

The biggest issue I have, however, is with your desire to link this study to genocide. This study does not address between-troop behavior at all, and as you've seemingly agreed in response to another post, genocide is just that--killing based on group inclusion/exclusion.

From what I've seen and read through documentaries and articles on behavior, I don't see that human attitudes which lead to genocide are so different from attitudes of chimps, lions (which I read last night), baboons, and undoubtedly other animals as well. There are not only territorial fights between groups, but attacks on non-threatening individuals that are not in the group.

(ABE: I did do a bit of searching for information on chimp troops, but found surprisingly little. The only mention I saw was in the Wikipedia Bonobo entry, the quote pasted below. But all the documentaries I've seen have been very clear about the very violent and aggressive behavior of chimps on extra-troop individuals, as well as lion behavior towards extra-pride lions as well as hyenas and the same with baboons)

Recent observations in the wild have seemed to indicate that the males among the Common Chimpanzee troops are extraordinarily hostile to males from outside of the troop. Parties are organized to "patrol" for the unfortunate males who might be living nearby in a solitary state. (Some researchers have suggested, however, that this behaviour has been caused by a combination of human contact and interference and massive environmental stress caused by deforestation and a corresponding range reduction.[11])

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonobo

To me, the biggest difference is in the ability to pull these things off. In the wild, it is so costly to fight in a "spiteful" way that killing seems to happen only along very practical boundaries. But when easy opportunities come to kill off non-threatening members outside their group, other animals do it.

For some humans, we are not so tightly tied to our environments, and our struggle for existence is not so great. We have the means (the wealth and time) to go ahead and kill others outside our group at our leisure.

Not the cleanest or best explanation of what I'm thinking, but it'll have to do! Gotta go to work! Peace.

Edited by Ben, : added tiny info on inter-troop interaction in chimps


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macaroniandcheese 
Suspended Member (Idle past 2003 days)
Posts: 4258
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Message 6 of 12 (410982)
07-18-2007 11:23 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by Ben!
07-18-2007 10:17 AM


This study does not address between-troop behavior at all, and as you've seemingly agreed in response to another post, genocide is just that--killing based on group inclusion/exclusion.

being based on inclusion/exclusion does not reduce it to inter-troop behavior. many genocides, particularly recent ones, have occurred within national and racial groups which have defined a false other or an other that has only very limited differences. case in point, rwandan difference is a mythical hyperbole of a social ranking system, and bosniaks are southern slavs who converted to islam, but are still the same racial/ethnic group.

i see the issues you list with the study itself. and i see your point about genocide being more practical and less spiteful. but then that is an understanding based on the propaganda and the reasons that participants cite for killing. however, it doesn't address the intellectual processes of the planners for whom genocide is a matter of political expedience. genocide doesn't just happen. it is planned and propogated by people desperate to acheive or maintain power over the in group. when animals kill those outside their group, it is to defend territory or take territory. i would have to see evidence that it is planned and propogated to maintain power over the in group. i've read diamond. i'm not convinced.

also, degree of hostility to or nastiness in killing of external individuals does not demonstrate spite or genocidal thinking. it's a much more subtle construct than that.


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sinequanon
Member (Idle past 939 days)
Posts: 331
Joined: 12-17-2007


Message 7 of 12 (441734)
12-18-2007 4:23 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by macaroniandcheese
07-17-2007 3:06 PM


I am a casual observer of birds. One behaviour I have often witnessed is their reaction to another bird carrying food in its beak. Herring gulls show an excellent example of the behaviour.

In this situation herring gulls engage in an acrobatic chase, four or five gulls at a time chasing one. There never appears to be any mid-air contact, but plenty of dive-bombing, and the chase invariable seems to end with the morsel being dropped and lost.

At first I dismissed this as a wasteful side effect of greed. Then I noticed that the fugitive rarely seemed to be doing its best to escape. In fact,, having outwitted the chasing mob, the fugitive sometimes returned to reengage them before eventually losing out and dropping the morsel.

I have seen no obvious reason for this behaviour short of demonic pleasure! It does not appear to be adults encouraging yearlings to fly, or anything of that nature.


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macaroniandcheese 
Suspended Member (Idle past 2003 days)
Posts: 4258
Joined: 05-24-2004


Message 8 of 12 (441736)
12-18-2007 4:24 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by sinequanon
12-18-2007 4:23 PM


i don't really know what that has to do with the topic.
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sinequanon
Member (Idle past 939 days)
Posts: 331
Joined: 12-17-2007


Message 9 of 12 (441743)
12-18-2007 4:43 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by macaroniandcheese
12-18-2007 4:24 PM


The finding, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, suggests homo sapiens are the only known species that sometimes feel a need to see others suffer.

This is in the first paragraph of the article you quoted in your opening post.

Also, the title of your thread is asking if the opposite of altruism is specifically human.

Therefore, does it not make sense to give examples of non-human behaviour which is opposite to altruism?


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macaroniandcheese 
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Posts: 4258
Joined: 05-24-2004


Message 10 of 12 (441745)
12-18-2007 4:50 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by sinequanon
12-18-2007 4:43 PM


i don't think that birds fighting over food as "sport" has anything to do with altruism.
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sinequanon
Member (Idle past 939 days)
Posts: 331
Joined: 12-17-2007


Message 11 of 12 (441864)
12-19-2007 3:54 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by macaroniandcheese
12-18-2007 4:50 PM


I am sure one could waste a lot of time researching a truism if ones definition of altruism is sufficiently unfortunate.

Unless you can define what makes the nature of torment "sport" in the one instance and "the opposite of altruism" in the other, you may simply end up "discovering" that humans are human.


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macaroniandcheese 
Suspended Member (Idle past 2003 days)
Posts: 4258
Joined: 05-24-2004


Message 12 of 12 (441903)
12-19-2007 9:12 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by sinequanon
12-19-2007 3:54 AM


you could continue to spout nonsense...
or you could read the article and reference other articles.
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